Saturday, May 31, 2008

Can You Believe It Happened Again?

A second crane collapse in less than three months! This has got to stop.

Crane Collapse, 2nd Since March, Kills 2 Workers

Bloomberg really needs to get the Department of Buildings under control and get them to figure out how to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. It's a disgrace!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


World Science Festival

Did you know that New York City is actually one of the great scientific research centers of the world? Well, it is, and the scientific community here wants you to know all about it. This week and weekend is the first annual World Science Festival in NYC and events are being held all over the city.

World Science Festival

If you're a science junkie, it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Poverty in NYC

The New York Times posted this online Q&A with David Jones, president of the Community Service Society of New York, about poverty in New York City and how we can reduce it.

Answers About Fighting Poverty in New York

I really agree with the policies he advocates here like creating incentives for developers to build more low and moderate income housing, creating a renter's tax credit, and passing legislation like the Cornerstone for Coverage plan. Let's hope some of his proposals come to pass and that the next Mayor makes affordable housing and cost of living top priorities.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Naughty New Yorkers

Did you know that every week New York magazine publishes a different "sex diary" online by various, usually young, very horny New Yorkers?

Sex Diaries

This week's entry is particularly funny. I'm assuming these "diaries" all true but, really, who cares?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York”

In 1974, the historian Robert Caro published The Power Broker, his masterful biography of Robert Moses. It won the Pulitzer Prize and, in 1999, was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 greatest works of nonfiction written in the 20th century (it ranked at #92).

So who was Robert Moses? He was, unquestionably, the most important person ever in New York City history. His impact on this town was enormous, immense, reverberating. We are, for all intensive purposes, living in Robert Moses’ NYC. No one has ever held so much power in this town for so long – more than 44 years – and he was never elected to anything.

So what did he do? He was New York’s master builder. He developed the city we live in today. “Robert Moses shaped New York … He built the Major Deegan Expressway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Sheridan Expressway and the Bruckner Expressway. He built the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, the Whitestone Expressway, the Clearview Expressway and the Throgs Neck Expressway. He built the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Nassau Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway and the Long Island Expressway. He built the Harlem River Drive and the West Side Highway.” He also built the Triborough and Verrazano Bridges as well Jones Beach, Orchard Beach, Jacob Riis Park and other public parks out on Long Island and upstate. He constructed hundreds of playgrounds, tennis courts, boathouses and baseball diamonds. He also built public pools, including the Astoria Park Pool, one of his better accomplishments.

Oh, he built buildings too: housing developments like Stuyvesant Towns and Peter Cooper Village, as well as Co-Op City. He built some other buildings you might know about: Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Shea Stadium, the New York Coliseum (since demolished, the Time Warner Center sits there now). He also built three of Central Park’s notable structures: Tavern-on-the-Green, Wollman Rink and the Delacorte Theater and the 79th Street Boat Basin in Riverside Park. And he ran (badly) the 1964 World’s Fair.

You get the idea. He built everything. “And what Robert Moses built on was as lie.”

The lie was the image Moses cultivated and propagated for five decades: that he was a self-less servant of the people, above politics, only “doing good” for “the masses.” The reality was that he warped the city to serve the rich few and not the poor and middle class many.

The lie was that he was answerable to the Mayors and Governors who appointed him to head dozens of state and city agencies over the years when, in reality, these elected people deferred to Moses. This includes Franklin Roosevelt when he was Governor and President, as well as Fiorello LaGuardia. Moses was a bully supreme. There’s a great scene in the book where, when FDR was governor, Moses stormed into his office and screamed “You’re a liar Mr. Roosevelt!” Can you imagine anyone doing that? Moses called his supposed elected superiors by their first names: he addressed one letter to Mayor Vincent Impellitteri “Dear Vince.” And he called LaGuardia “that dago son of a bitch.” Nasty, nasty man, this master builder was.

So how did he do it? Moses created and ran a public authority called Triborough that raised money through toll-booths and public bonds and that gave Moses nearly a billion dollars that he could hand out (or not) to the public officials he supposedly served. Needless to say, money talks, or in this case, rules. And the unelected, unanswerable Robert Moses ruled this town for nearly half of the 20th century.

And while Moses certainly did some good for the city, the lie was that New York was better off because of Moses rather than the opposite.

“Robert Moses was America’s greatest builder,” Caro writes. “He was the shaper of the greatest city in the New World. But what did he build?” What did he do to construct the city we live in today? “By building his highways, Moses flooded the city with cars. By systematically starving the subways and the suburban commuter railroads, he swelled that flood to city-destroying dimensions.”

He “threw out of their homes 250,000 persons … He tore out the hearts of scores of neighborhoods, communities the size of small cities themselves, communities that had been lively, friendly places to live, the vital parts of the city that made New York a home to its people.” The Cross-Bronx Expressway gutted a pleasant neighborhood called East Tremont, wrecking the Bronx and turning it into a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken borough. The Gowanus Expressway similarly destroyed a lovely middle-class area in Brooklyn, burying it under shadow generating highway. And the public housing Moses built was ugly and depressing. He also built almost no playgrounds and public pools in Harlem or other black neighborhoods. The one public pool he built in Harlem wasn’t even heated – he didn’t think, for some reason, that black people could get cold.

If there are things about New York that drive you crazy today, you can thank Robert Moses for them.

Why aren’t there subway lines that go directly to La Guardia or JFK? Why aren’t there subway lines serving huge parts of Queens? Why can’t you take a subway to Red Hook? Why is there still no 2nd Avenue Subway? Because Moses didn’t believe in public transportation and had contempt for people who needed it and couldn't’t afford cars. From 1933 until 1968, Moses years in power, not one new subway line was built and New Yorkers had to, and still have to, pack themselves like sardines into the subway cars on the old, old tracks. It’s not exactly a secret that our city’s public transportation is inadequate and overcrowded. Moses was so convinced that cars were the future of New York, he even proposed a Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have run through and destroyed Soho and Greenwich Village! (Mercifully, that was stopped.) And the irony was that Robert Moses never drove a car a day in his 92 years of life.

In short, Caro writes, Moses “systematically defeated every attempt to create the master plan that might have enabled the city to develop on a rational, logical, unified pattern.” By destroying so many neighborhoods and making so many others inaccessible with little or no public transportation, Moses reduced the number of pleasant areas where New Yorkers can or want to live. That’s why it costs so much to live here today and why New Yorkers are paying so much for so little space.

Needless to say Moses’ legacy is what contributed to the subtitle “The Fall of New York” and, for the last few decades, Mayors and Governors have been trying to undo a lot of the problems he created. Bloomberg’s PlaNYC is basically an attempt to overturn and minimize the Moses mess.

So what about the book itself? The Power Broker is a long, exhausting, infuriating, and brilliant book. Caro is an absolutely masterful writer and the jaw drops when you read about all of the interviews he conducted and all of the documents he browsed through. Caro’s gift is explaining the details and decisions of public policy making and how they affect people’s lives. Ultimately, this book is really not a biography of Moses or a history of New York City or a sociological study of urban planning, but an examination of power (hence the book’s title): Caro brilliantly explains how Moses got power, used it, kept it, and eventually lost it.

Because of its length, The Power Broker is a door stopper and it takes a commitment to read it. It took me over a month! But I highly recommend it if you have any desire to understand how New York City changed and grew in the 20th century.

Happy Memorial Day

We remember the fallen.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

World Cafe

Thanks to media consolidation, music radio has become boring and repetitive. Like the rest of the country, trying to find interesting music on the NYC airwaves is a pain.

But there is a drop of water in the desert. If you flip down down the dial on weekday afternoons, to 91.5 FM WNYE from 2 to 4 PM, there's a great public radio show called the World Cafe. It plugs itself as "the premiere public radio showcase for contemporary music serving up an eclectic blend that includes indie rock, singer-songwriters, folk, alternative country, blues, and world music."

They also have really good interviews. I was never big fan of Nine Inch Nails, but this past week they had Trent Reznor on and, while promoting his new album, he gave some really interesting thoughts on the music business and how downloading is changing not only the business and how we consume music but also how we appreciate music in general.

It's a really good show and, if you're a big music fan, worth checking out if you can.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Brit Out of Water

You should check out this great blog by this British living NYC. It's very well-written and funny. I'm jealous of this guy's talent, he truly makes blogging an art.

A Brit Out of Water

Brooklyn Bridge 125th Birthday

Here's a great video someone did of the 125th birthday celebration for the Brooklyn Bridge.

Gotta love the fireworks!

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Yorkers and ... Toads?

Warning New Yorkers: toad venom is not an aphrodisiac.

I repeat: toad venom is not an aphrodisiac.

NYC issues warning after aphrodisiac kills man

Just because you might be -- or might not want to become -- as horny as a toad DOES NOT mean you should use one's venom to get in the mood. The city's department of health has even released this press release about it (seriously, this is for real). It's illegal and, clearly, not that good for you.

I repeat once more: toad venom is not an aphrodisiac. That's why they invented Viagra and Horny Goat Weed.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The (Slightly Smaller) Big Apple

Apparently our town is 17 square miles smaller than originally thought, thanks to some number crunching by the city's Department of Planning.

It’s Still a Big City, Just Not Quite So Big

In Annie Hall, Alvy's mother exclaimed "Brooklyn is not expanding!" She was wrong - it's shrinking.

Well, less is more, right? Right??

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge

You're still looking great for a 125-year old!

Learn more about it here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Shot Heard 'Round The World

This is considered the single greatest moment, not only in the history of New York City baseball, but in all of American sports: Bobby Thomson's come from behind home run that won the National League pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

October 3, 1951. At the bottom of the 9th inning, with all three bases loaded and the Giants losing 1-4, Thomson whacked the ball into the stands and the Giants overwhelmed the Dodgers to snag the game, 5-4. The crowd went wild (Dodgers fans, like my own grandfather, excepted). The city had shut down for this penultimate game of the series and, when it was over, nearly exploded from the emotion it unleashed.

The next day the newspapers declared this home run "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" - and it literally was, as serviceman fighting in Korea heard it on the radio.

On the same day as this historic game, the Soviet Union tested the first nuclear bomb - another metaphorical, much more ominous shot heard 'round the world.

For many Americans, these two events on the same day became the turning point for 20th century America -- the official end of the World War Two era, the beginning of the Cold War era, and the rise of American of dominance. The tour-de-force prologue of Don DeLillo's great 1997 novel Underworld is devoted to this game and moment, and the rest of this novel - part fiction, part fact - covers the next 50 years of turbulent history that unfurled afterwards.

DeLillo describes it best - the memories of great moments like this, the vicissitudes of history, and feelings they all inspire - when he writes at the end of the prologue: "It's all falling indelibly into the past,"

Here's a partial transcript of Russ Hodges calling the game (since the recording is a little hard to understand):

"There's a long drive... it's gonna be, I believe...THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they're goin' crazy, they're goin' crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!'' [long pause for crowd noise]

I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson... hit a line drive... into the lower deck... of the left-field stands... and this blame place is goin' crazy! The Giants! Horace Stoneham has got a winner! The Giants won it... by a score of 5 to 4... and they're pickin' Bobby Thomson up... and carryin' him off the field!"

Monday, May 19, 2008

Love New York Style

The Sex and the City movie is about to open and New Yorkers can hardly wait.

Tabloids are ablaze with the our politicians' peccadilloes -- Eliot's hookers, Patterson's mistresses, Vito's love child, McGreevey's gay life/endless divorce.

Practically every woman in this town is reading Eat, Pray, Love (short review: lady gets divorced, goes to Italy and eats lots of food, goes to India and gets all spiritual, goes to Bali and screws her brains out).

New Yorkers write myriad blogs giving us the intimate details of their romantic endeavors.

In short, we New Yorkers are pretty frickin' horny. So what else is new, right?

Tom Wolfe has often referred to the "season of the rising sap" to characterize periods of lust. And as springtime gradually yields to summer, New Yorkers' collective sap seems to be brimming over this season.

To whit, how appropriate then to read Phillip Weiss's article in New York magazine, The Affairs of Men. What's interesting about it is how obvious most of his observations are. See, he arrives at the shocking conclusion that men want to cheat because, well, they crave sexual variety! Who knew?! And not just men, women too! Oh my God! The article also reports that 1 in 4 men and roughly 1 in 6 women cheat. Now that was a shock. I didn't realize the numbers were that low.

Weiss also concludes that the idea of marriage being synonymous with long-term monogamy is a puritanical American myth. The Europeans, he says, appropriately view marriage for what it is: a social convention, a socioeconomic arrangement, where sex and romance aren't its fundamental underpinnings by just by-products -- and that looking for "strange" elsewhere is normal and accepted.

So what does this have to do with dating and mating in NYC? Well, Mr Weiss doesn't go into it in his article, but my observations is that we're a little more European than most Americans but certainly more puritanical than most Europeans. Yet at their core, sex and love in NYC is all about status. It's social Darwinism run amok. Welcome to Love New York Style.

In a city like New York, with so many people, so much variety, and so many opportunities to meet new people, fidelity is practically impossible -- or at least really, really, REALLY hard.

If you're a guy, the better looking you are, the more affluent you are, the more socially accepted you are, the more chicks will be looking to snag you. And if you're an even an only half-way decent looking woman, guys will be willing to spend all of their disposable income, even non-disposable income, trying to score you (obviously if you're a woman, the hotter you are, the more money guys'll spend on you and the more picky you can be about selecting a fella but that goes without saying).

And because looks and money rule in this town, the more you have of both, the greater the opportunities you have to cheat. In New York, so much temptation exists, its really hard to refrain. Of course some people are more easily tempted than others, and temptation is not equally distributed to everyone but still ... in NYC, the lure of "sexual variety" exists for everyone and everyone feels its pull sometime. Cheating is therefore inevitable.

So ladies: the better looking and richer the guy, believe you me, he ain't gonna settle for only one woman for the rest of his life. And guys: the hotter the lady, the more vicious the competition for her affections will be and the more likely she'll have no problem dumping you at a moment's notice when someone better comes a long.

New York may be the epitome of civilization but, when it comes to sex and love here, the laws of the jungle rule.

Love New York Style is like so much about life in this town -- a tough game of negotiation wherein some win and some lose.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Superheroes ... at the Met?

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Iron Man, the Hulk ... who would have ever thought they'd be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Well, now they are.

Last week we went to the brand-new exhibit Superheroes at the Met. It's still worth seeing if you're interested in the mythology of superheroes in American culture but it's by no means the most incredible exhibit I've ever seen. (Methinks this might be a ploy to hike up attendance.) Basically they show the designs for superhero costumes and try to explain (a little unconvincingly for me) how "the superhero look" has had an influence and transformative effect on American high-fashion and design. You can see the suits that Tobey Maguire wore in Spiderman, Christopher Reeve wore in Superman, even the body armor Robert Downey Jr wears in the current Iron Man movie (guess you can't accuse the Met on not being with the times). They also show other clothing from top-name designers (like Versace, et al.) that supposedly owe a debt to Marvel and DC Comics.

It's not a very large exhibit and a little underwhelming. But, if you haven't been to the Met in a while, seeing this along with the amazing new Greek and Roman galleries makes for a nice time.

Problems Solved!

Mercifully my week-long technical problems have been solved so I should be able to blog regularly from now on. This was a lesson that if you need to solve a problem, DO NOT rely on others if you don't have to. I tried to get some IT people to take a look at my problem and couldn't get anyone fast enough so I took the initiative and fixed it on my own. Part of me feels very proud of myself, part of me feels very annoyed at myself for taking so long just to drum up the self-motivation to do it. Oh well. It's fixed now. Go me ... to a point.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Graduating Moron

Yesterday was NYU's graduation ceremony at Yankee stadium - a day when young men and woman get together and celebrate together their academic accomplishments. This nitwit character decided to make it all about himself. He took off his pants (but left on his gown), hurled himself onto the field and tried to start running the bases. He was immediately tackled to the ground and removed. 

Lot of his fellow grads cheered him on and if you read the message boards, the guy's a hero. My opinion: graduation ceremonies are mind-numbingly dumb so a little spontaneity is most welcome. But this was just stupidly selfish. If a group of NYU grads has swarmed the field and done it together, it would've be great. This was just sad, however.

Full disclosure: I just got a grad degree from NYU and could've been at this ceremony yesterday. If I had known this was gonna happen, I might have gone. Might have.

Sue Simmons CURSES on Live TV

I've been watching Sue Simmons on WNBC for over 20 years and I never knew she was this cool!

I'm here!!!

I've been having technical difficulties with my lovely computer and thus have been unable to blog the last few days. The problems aren't solved yet so I'm using someone' else's 'puter till then. My posting may be a little more sporadic till then but I'll do my best :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

New York's Oldest Barfly

And now a happy story: this is a charming, heartwarming story about a 93 year old woman who still works and still enjoys a stiff drink almost every night at the Cafe des Artistes. The older I get, the more I come to admire folks like this.

Once a Hostess, Now a Bar’s Grande Dame

Suicide Tourism

We'd like to think that all visitors to NYC come here to see the sights, see the shows, walk the streets, eat the eclectic food, and generally soak up the city's culture and spirit. Sadly, as this New York magazine article explains, some people come here expressly to kill themselves. Why? Well, as the city of opportunity, there appear to be many opportunities to kill oneself here. Some "hot" suicide spots:

The George Washington Bridge
The Empire State Building
The Subway (jumping in front of oncoming trains)

Interestingly enough this article doesn't mention NYU's Bobst Library which, a few years ago, was the place to off oneself. If you've ever been there, and I have, the library is about 8 or so stories high and, inside, the upper floors overlook a large atrium. Students and even some non-students would hurl themselves from these top floors down into this atrium. A few years ago they installed some kind of Plexiglas which has made this impossible. Still, it's scary to think about. Let's hope this is one tourist trend that doesn't continue.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap was one of the greatest TV shows of all time (which is why I've posted the very cool opening credits here). It's also the name of a vegetarian restaurant in Greenwich Village.

I don't usually patronize such joints (I'm a veteran carnivore) but I went a couple of weeks ago and, I must say, thought the food was great. Quantum Leap's menu is mostly macrobiotic but they also vegan options. You can get a wide variety of veggie burgers, sandwiches, and wraps plus they have healthy breakfast foods. I had a really good burrito with some kind of yam-like chips and the others had the aforementioned veggie burgers. They don't serve sodas or any of those unhealthy drinks, so plan to wash down your meal with a lemonade, fruit juice or some kind of natural tea.

Quantum Leap is located at 226 Thompson street, just of Washington Square. It's a small place but has a very friendly atmosphere, usually described by people as "chill." Best of all, the prices are modest and it's not too hard to get a table.

For a good, reasonably priced, not too crowded restaurant in NYC, Quantum Leap is a real find.

Here's a rave review from Healthy Living NYC.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Review: "Sunday in the Park with George"

There's nothing to raise one's spirits like going to see a glorious Broadway musical. And "Sunday in the Park with George" at Studio 54 is just such a show. This is a revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning musical that made Mandy Patinkin a star and it's wonderfully done. It's a very unconventional show. Of all the audacious things, it's a musical about a painting (not painting, a painting).

The first act revolves around French artist George Seurat while he worked on his masterpiece "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette" in 1884 (pictured above, it's currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago and was famously seen in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Seurat and this painting made famous the style called pointillism, which consists entirely of little dots of varying color; a dictionary definition of pointillism: "a style of painting that used points of color and relied on the eye and brain to blend them into a meaningful picture." Seurat was a difficult, aloof guy, the classic mad artist, and he drove his friends and mistress Dot to despair. Seurat died at the age of 31, a most controversial artist.

The second act takes place in 1984 where Seurat's great-grandson (also named George) is some kind of flailing video artist, living in the painting and his family's shadow. George seeks to learn more about great-grandfather, the painting, and art, and he comes to realize that art should be about one's expression, about what kind of legacy one wants to leave, and not about what critics and historians might or might not say.

This production uses special effects in an absolutely brilliant. The screens behind the actors literally come alive with color but does so in such a way as to enhance the performances and story, and not obliterate it. Many of the characters in the show are actually figures from "La Grande Jette" and in one brilliant scene, as the actors recreate the painting, they sing about how it feels to be stuck in a painting for over a century with lots of people starting at them.

The performance are uniformly excellent. Daniel Evans make Seurat into a likable if somewhat childlike person, someone you know is a good guy at heart but who can also be enormously self-centered and unthoughtful. You can't help falling in love with Jenna Russell as Dot/Marie (the mistress and, later on, Seurat's elderly daughter). She makes both characters wonderfully dimensional, sympathetic but nowhere near perfect. Needless to say, both actors and the supporting cast sing wonderfully and the music, while very spare and rather monotone compared to most Broadway musicals (in order to reflect the exacting style of pointillism) is beautiful.

If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend going to see "Sunday in the Park with George." It's what great theater in NYC is all about. It runs until June 29.

So Long Vito

Short article in today's Times about Congressman Vito Fossella.

From a Bright Past to a Cloudy Future

As you probably know, last week he was busted in DC for a DWI (he wasn't just a little bit tipsy, apparently he was totally sloshed). He told the cops that he was on his way to see "his daughter" which confused everyone at first since his wife and kids live back on Staten Island. Whoops! The drunken tongue is so often the most honest one. Turns out this paragon of conservative Republican family values who screamed about what a louse Bill Clinton was has a mistress and illegitimate kid living in DC. Vito's so pro-family, he must have figured why have only one?

The papers on Staten Island are calling for him to resign. So are a lot of his constituents. Obviously he's gonna have a hell of a time surviving, let alone get re-elected. While it'd be great to see his seat go Democratic this year, I don't think politics should victimize families like this. I always feel sorriest for the innocent relatives and children in situations like this. Let's hope that they can heal and that Mr Fossella can carve out some kind of life for himself and his family in the future. My best to him and them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Oh Those New York Politicians ...

Wow! What a lousy year to be a New York politician!

2008 will go down in history as the year New York's political leadership officially became a big joke. And it ain't even half over yet! First Rudy's presidential campaign went to Florida to die. Then Eliot Spitzer got down with a hooker and his governorship went down with her.

As soon as Eliot left, our new governor admitted to running around on his wife ad nausem.

That should have been enough -- more than enough. But wait! There's more!

Now, within the last two days, Hillary Clinton's campaign is over and everyone wants her to quit and she should quit but she won't quite and now a Staten Island congressman has been busted for drunk driving and fathering an illegitimate kid!!!

Oy vey. Madone. When will it end? All this nonsense and failure is enough to make this New Yorker nostalgic for Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch -- heck even Al D'Amato and George Pataki will do.

Al Smith, FDR, Daniel Patrick Moynahan, and Nelson Rockefeller must be spinning in their graves (and even though Nelson died in 1979 while shtupping his secretary, at least he had the decency to wait until he was out of office).

Let's just hope that Chuck Schumer and Mike Bloomberg aren't being naughty. We can't take much more of this.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Suzanne Vega - Luka

In 1987, little known singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega burst onto the music scene with this powerful, haunting song.

"Luka" was a Top 20 radio hit and this video played regularly on MTV. The success of this song was a bit surprising considering that it's about, of all ghastly things, child abuse. Bringing such dark subject matter into a popular song was a truly audacious thing to do, but the song's beauty made it a clear winner.

Vega is a born and bred New Yorker and her music over the years has always been imbued with the city's spirit. The dreamlike video for "Luka" shows the city as an unglamorous, almost mournful place, a place where you know all sorts of secrets (some tragic) abound. It captures the pain and beauty of city life, it's longings and mysteries, and it makes you think and feel at the same time.

A truly timeless song.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Minor Celebrity Sighting - Pete Hamill

Being a New Yorker, I have a highly developed sense of tunnel-vision -- I don't usually look at other people on the street. Every so often, however, I do spot the occasional celebrity: Chris Eigman (the guy from the Whit Stillman movies, saw him on the subway), Robert Klein (ditto subway), Ralph Fiennes (actually rode an elevator with him once), and more recently Claire Danes with her boytoy Hugh Dancy.

Today, going to lunch, I saw someone who's not a big celebrity but is most definitely a New York legend: Pete Hamill, the great reporter and columnist, someone who calls himself and will forever be identified as an old-fashioned "newspaperman."

He's been writing about New York City for almost fifty years, has worked at almost every major newspaper in this town (he even edited the Post for a while), has written novels, and also appeared a lot on television. He even had the distinct yet scary honor of being on Nixon's enemies list back in the 1970s, along with folks like Ted Kennedy, John Lennon, Joe Namath, and Paul Newman (how freakin' cool is that?).

Hamill wrote the best book ever of New York nostalgia -- Downtown: My Manhattan. It's a loving tribute to this city, combining history with memories and anecdotes. It gives us Hamill's personal views and feelings about the city but manages to make them universal at the same time. I've never read a book quite like it and I highly recommend it as an upcoming summer beach read.

I didn't say anything to Mr. Hamill when passing him outside my office today. But I smiled, glad to know he was still roaming the streets, doubtless thinking of other wonderful things to write.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Way We Live Now

"We" being New Yorkers that is (all due respect to Anthony Trollope of course).

Today I found four articles that perfectly sum up the exigencies of living in NYC today. In short, this city's getting too damn expensive. That's not news, obviously, but these articles make very clear how it's affecting people.

First, this article from the Times about rent stabilization. Yet again the Rent Guidelines Board is holding a vote to raise rents on these kinds of apartments. As someone who lives in such a pad, I'm obviously very interested in how it turns out. Last year two-year leases went up 5.75% and one-year leases went up 3%. In 2006, the raises were nastier, 7.25% and 4.25% respectively. How much rents will go up this year is any one's guess. It's a miserable situation all around: the landlords are getting screwed because the price of oil is driving up maintenance costs and the tenants are getting screwed because their wages aren't going up enough.

Second, and this one really bummed me out, was this Times article about supermarkets that are disappearing from poor and middle-class neighborhoods (due to, you guessed it, rising rents). People are being forced to take the bus and train to shop for food. Obviously poorer people don't have the best diets to begin with and suffer from things like obesity and heart disease in greater rates than most. Not having easy access to supermarkets where they can get fresh and healthy foods means, in the long run, that they'll eat more junk and have even more health problems. Not good. Not good at all.

Third and fourth were two very different articles in this week's New York magazine.

The first one was about the grueling and incredibly dangerous jobs of transit workers. I know I bitch a lot about the MTA but my wrath is directed to its incompetent crony management and not the decent folks who actually make it run. Several track workers and have been killed the last few years in tragic accidents. Like police officers and firefighters, these are good, middle-class New Yorkers who put their lives on the line each day so that the rest of us can be safe and, in this case, on time to work and play.

The other article is about, of all things, Sarah Jessica Parker, Miss Sex and the City herself. You'd think that she's the epitome of rich New York, pampered Yuppie who's driving up the prices of everything and driving out the middle class. The thing is, the gentrification of New York even upsets and bothers her!!! In this article she bemoans, as I do, how the city has changed in the last twenty years and how Manhattan in particular is turning into a big gated community. Now if the tyranny of uberwealth bothers this icon of New York City glamour, then you know it's gotten bad. Bravo Sarah Jessica. I like her even more than I did.

Sorry to make this post such a downer but when I saw these articles today, they really made me think. Think about how the city I love is becoming inhospitable for so many and instead seem to be catering more and more to so few (mainly the wealthy and wealthy tourists).
It's nearly impossible to be middle class in this town today and maintain any decent quality of life. I grew up middle class here in the 1980s under Mayor Ed "How'm I doin'?" Koch and, while the city had a lot of problems then (namely a high crime rate), people and families of modest means could still hack out a decent living. Today, it's virtually impossible. The city's getting too gentrified and sterile, a city of the haves and have-nots, and it's making New York City lose it's gritty, sexy, distinctive edge.

While Mike Bloomberg's been a good Mayor in many ways, the dying middle class in this town has not been one of this top priorities. Let's hope his successor, whoever that is, feels differently.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And talking about classy New York ...

... a sad story in today's New York Times about the pianist in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, who will be playing her last performance tomorrow evening. Apparently it's no longer affordable for these big fancy hotels to keep people musically entertaining the clientele. It's yet another tiny bit Old New York disappearing.

Fading Sounds of an Elegant Manhattan

The Real Housewives of New York City

Dumb people make for very entertaining TV - thus they are the staple of reality shows. Dingy women, in particular, make for very, very entertaining TV, which is why reality shows like "The Real Housewives of New York City" exist (a knock off "The Real Housewives of Orange County", which I guess is something to be proud of).

Basically this show follows around five shrill, insecure, social-climbing women married to men who make money in very dubious ways. These women are supposedly the rich, classy ladies of NYC (the kind that Tom Wolfe would call "Social X-rays" or "Lemon Tarts") but, as my very classy lady friend pointed out, "They're all so trashy looking!" Hear, hear.

I caught a few minutes of this show on Bravo and it's a total train-wreck. It's really obscene. I like it a lot.

And yet it proves the rule that, while some people might have a lot of money, it can't buy them even a shred of class. Enjoy!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mike the Influencer

Once more our dear Mayor has been named to the list of Time magazine's 100 most influential human beings currently roaming the earth. Robert Kennedy Jr has penned this glowing tribute to Hizzoner, lauding him for making New York City a more environmentally friendly place.

Interestingly enough, Mike is listed under the heading "Scientists and Thinkers", not simply lumped in with other politicians. That must make Mike proud. He's not just rich and powerful but has been dubbed an intellect and scientific genius to boot. How good can life get for this guy?

Our great, brilliant, wonderful President calls himself "the Decider" (he decided to go to war with Iraq and that, of course, has been a huge success). But our Mayor should genuinely be called "the Influencer." His governing style, his innovations in city government, his war against illegal guns, and his environmental initiatives amongst others are influencing his fellow mayors and doubtless will influence his successors for a generation to come.

A decider or an influencer -- which would you rather be?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tough Times in NYC but Not Everything is Bleak

Because of the lousy economy, Mayor Bloomberg is making painful cuts to education and other city services. Needless to say, some of these cuts are necessary, but it's always interesting how, when cuts are made, they fall heavily on the poor and rarely result in tax increases on the very rich. Oh well, what else is new?

However, I must commend Mayor Bloomberg for drastically reducing the number of parking placards issued to city employees. These have been horribly abused in the past and, as I've noted earlier, has made parking in Lower Manhattan virtually impossible. Hopefully it will reduce some congestion on the city streets and make Lower Manhattan a bit more accessible for ordinary people.

Another happy development is the return of John Gambling to WOR Radio. The Gambling family have been doing radio in NYC for decades and his return to WOR, after being rather shamefully fired from WABC a couple of months ago, is a happy thing. I don't particularly agree with Mr. Gambling's view of the world but, unlike so many radio blowhards, he's a class act and always respectful. Mayor Bloomberg will join him every Friday from 8 to 9 AM starting May 16.

Finally, you should read this short but lovely story about a doorman who lives Astoria and writes blogs and gives tours about Queens and its past. He is a devoted and caring steward of this city. Anyone can have a blog saying how much they love NYC but guys like this put bloggers like me to shame. What a great guy. I tip my hat to him.

So while NYC may be facing some tough times, there are dots of light in the darkness. And there always will be.

Back in NYC

As promised, I have returned. Europe was great and I can't wait to go back. To sum up my trip briefly:

London: a bit rainy but some days were lovely. Went out to Windsor Castle on the nicest of day. Also went to the Victoria & Albert and British Museums. Did a lot of walking around as well, although London is so congested now with traffic and tourists that this isn't easy. One piece of advice: if you ever go to London and anyone suggests you sign up for the "Hop On/Hop Off" all-day bus pass, do not do this. The routes are circuitous and, because the traffic is so bad, the buses move very slowly. Better bet: get a five-pound all-day tube pass and zip around town via train. One thing you should also do is visit Harrods, the huge department store, where I did the equivalent of window shopping (I had no interest in spending my life savings there). There I saw the most obscene thing ever: the Diana and Dodi memorial. Apparently Dodi Fayed's father owns Harrods and, in the lower ground floor, has erected this huge, revolting memorial to their non-existent love affair. You've never seen anything like it. A must see.

Paris: beautiful beautiful weather, beautiful, beautiful people. The rap that all French people are snooty is untrue -- the French folks I met were lovely although, considering how awesome France is, they have lots to be snooty about. We went to the Musee Orsay, Notre Dame, and the Cluny Museum, probably the best medieval museum in the world (if you like the Cloisters, you MUST go to the Cluny). Also spent some time in the stunningly gorgeous Luxembourg Gardens and, on our final night, ate at the wonderful Bofinger Brassiere, the oldest restaurant in Paris. A lovely place. Paris is everything it's cracked up to be and so much more. If you haven't been there then you must make a pilgrimage before you die.