Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Interview: Elena Soterakis, NYC Environmental Artist

In this multi-media world, where ubiquitous screens blare at us at every second, it’s easy to overlook more traditional media like painting. It’s easy to think that such “media” is irrelevant to our fast-paced, interconnected, digital universe, and that paintings exist solely as objects of beauty or curiosities.

But the work of Elena Soterakis proves that painting can be totally relevant to our changing world. Starting as painter of landscapes and cityscapes, Elena’s work now focuses on the theme of environmental degradation -- a subject more relevant to our modern world than probably any other. Using classical painting techniques, along with a keen eye and brilliant imagination, her paintings capture both the ironic beauty and abject horror of what humanity is doing to its own home.

Elena was kind enough to tell Mr NYC a little bit about her background, her work, and her thoughts about art, environmentalism and NYC.

Tell us a little about your background and what made you want to become a painter.

I’ve always really wanted to be an artist. I can’t imagine being anything else. I’ve known this since the sixth grade, the years when you have to make dioramas and posters to go with every report. I loved doing poster board projects for my science class, and I realized through those that I loved making art. Those projects honestly inspired me more than my middle school art classes, which were very structured and unexciting. I actually got poor grades in art class, because they wanted me to do boring projects like draw my shoe. They weren’t engaging at all. It was really thanks to my science teacher, Fran Casola, that I got so interested in art. I remember at the end of the year, she told me I really deserved a B in science, but my dioramas were so good that she gave me an A.

Who are some of your favorite artists and influences?

I’m a diehard Anslem Keifer fan. He’s a contemporary German artist. His paintings are very textured. I love the surfaces of his paintings; they’re chunky and interesting. I love the way he paints! It’s funny, because my paintings really don’t look like his. I wish I painted like he did! When I was young I really loved Edward Hopper. He was one of the artists that really made me want to be a landscape painter. Recently I’ve been inspired by the Hudson River School; I quote a lot of their paintings in my own work and turn them into degraded 21st century landscapes. Much of your early work was of landscapes and cityscapes.

What attracted you to this kind of painting and what were some of your favorite places to paint?

I’m always inspired when I’m driving, or walking down the street, and I see an empty landscape or cityscape that’s devoid of people, but has the remnants of people. I did a residency in Ithaca at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, and I loved painting there. The residency is on a 400-acre estate, and I painted on site. That was very exciting for me. But I also really like industrial, gritty landscapes, and Brooklyn is great for that. More recently you've been doing paintings about environmental degradation and preservation.
What inspired you to move your work into this direction and do you consider your art as a kind of activism?

I wanted to make landscapes that reflect the 21st century. I feel like in this day and age of climate crisis, painting romantic nature scenes would do nature a disservice. I wanted to be a part of a dialogue. My work questions how environmental preservation can take place in a “throw away” society. I see my art as a call to action, and I do see it as a form of activism.

What are some of your favorite environmental paintings that you've done?

I did a triptych, called “Lake George Revisited”, in which I quoted a painting from the Hudson River painter, Martin Johnson Heade. The original Lake George painting was completed in the 1860’s, and I turned it into three different 21st century scenes of degradation. I like it because it’s a startling juxtaposition to see such beautiful nature next to human waste.

Tell us about the NARS Foundation and how you're involved with it.

The NARS foundation is a non-profit organization located in Sunset Park which occupies two floors of an industrial building. I have a permanent studio there, but it’s also home to an international residency program in which artists rotate in and out every three to six months. We also have two galleries in the building, and we hold open studios twice a year, in the fall and spring. It’s a very dynamic community to be a part of with a diverse group of artists coming and going. That community has tremendously benefited my art.

You're based in Brooklyn and are active in the arts scene in NYC. How do you think gentrification affected the art world in this city? Has it made it better or worse?

Without a doubt, gentrification has hurt creative communities across New York City, and not just visual artists. It makes having a studio very difficult - real estate is expensive. It creates a pressure cooker situation, in which rents are increasing so much that you eventually have to move. I was renting a studio in Industry City, but rent increased too much and I had to leave. There are hardly any visual artists there anymore, and big stores like ABC Home & Carpet have moved in. It’s difficult to maintain community ties when artists are being shuffled around the city.

Does NYC inspire (or still inspire) or work?

Absolutely! I’m very affected by my surroundings. Any sort of garbage or detritus is interesting to me. I'm always fascinated to see what people are throwing out. The New York cityscape definitely inspires my color palette. And it’s a vibrant city - I’m very inspired by all the art created here.

Tell us about your upcoming show in Houston and anything else you'd like to promote.

I have an opening on August 3, in Houston with my artist friend Emily Dingmann called “Observance of Form”. The idea for this show started last spring, when Emily was curating a group show called “Come Together”, and she invited me to come down to Houston to make art with her for the show. It was so interesting and fun to collaborate together that we decided to keep the dialogue going, and it eventually turned into this 30-piece show. I’ve been travelling back and forth from Brooklyn to Houston to work on this series with her. We have very different artistic styles - Emily is an abstract minimalist painter, and I’m more of a representational artist who works with different mediums like collage. It was really interesting to fuse our styles and see what we came up with. It really broke me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to new materials and processes. The same night, I have an opening at the NARS Foundation for a show called, “Practice: In Progress” which is a group show of 22 artists curated by Elisa Gutierrez, who recently came to NARS from Mexico City.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

The most important career advice, I would say, is to build a community of like minded artists who are supportive, thoughtful, and kind. Once I developed a community, things got a lot more exciting and my career started to gain momentum. Also, see a lot of art. Good art, bad art, see as much as possible so you can develop your taste, and have an understanding of your likes and dislikes.

Thanks Elena! You can see an example of Elena’s other work on the front cover of my book Leaving New York.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Jacob Riis: Just the Facts

Fact 1: Jacob Riis was a nineteenth-century Dannish immigrant who became a police reporter and photographer in NYC. He utilized his photography skills by taking numerous pictures of the dire living circumstances of people in poverty. His 1890 book about poverty, How the Other Half Lives, includes many of these pictures and it became a blockbuster. Riss' book was cited by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt as an important call to action to reduce poverty. Riis died in 1914. 

Fact 2: Today Riis is best known for the beach in the Rockaways that was named after him. It's rather difficult to get to but it's an extraordinary place with a massive sand bars, lots of food and drink options, a golf course, and even, for this summer at least, a big art installation. We went there this weekend (for the second time) and loved it. 

Fact 3: Jacob Riis beach is worth the hike. If you want more info about how to get there and other beaches in the Rockaways, here's some info. Since it's rather remote, you certainly want to plan your trip and the time commitment wisely. 

Fact 4: The rumors about a certain part of Jacob Riis beach are very, very true. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google it.



Friday, July 27, 2018

Simple Gifts

In these turbulent times, I’ve found refuge in the simple pleasures, the simple joys, the simple gifts of life: good food, good friends, and the beauties of nature and culture. The world is so much more than the horrors you see in the news, and it’s important to always remember this, even when it seems frivolous.

Recently I’ve found that my bread maker, my slow cooker, my vegetable garden, writing this blog, and just hanging out with friends have given me a joy that I never fully appreciated until now. These simple gifts lift my spirits, nourish my soul, and feed my sometimes starving optimism.

Out in LA a man named Jonathan Gold just died. He was the first food critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and he was an LA icon whose reviews were beautifully written and whose love for food and LA touched his many readers and fans. Sadly I had never heard of him until now but, in reading about his life and career, I’ve found him an inspiration: he was a man who found joy in the simple gifts of life and shared them with everybody.

I’m not a food critic but I’m a big foodie and love cooking and going to new restaurants. These days going out is a lot harder (kids, you know) but a few years ago I wrote about a wonderful restaurant called Chez Napoleon that’s the kind of intimate NYC place that’s vanishing. It’s the kind of place Jonathan Gold would have loved and, going there and to places like it, greatly lifts my spirits.

To be honest, I’ve never found much joy in pets. It’s one of my many emotional blindspots. But many people love them and they are another kind of simple gift. So you might be surprised to learn (unless, of course, you listen to him) that radio star Howard Stern’s wife Beth is big animal lover who rescues cats and finds them homes. She has a gorgeous Instagram page featuring her love of cats and it’s so great that the New Yorker has even written an article about it. It’s clear that, to Beth, pets give her joy and she’s committed her life to them and, in sharing with us, shares it with us.

Simple gifts, I’ve often found, are the best gifts, and the easiest to give. And in NYC, there are many to be found. 


And another simple gift:

 

North & South, East & West

When it comes to a city as vast as NYC then, if you’re a geography geek like me, you might wonder: what are its farthest most areas, its most remote places, its own Siberias, North Poles, Antarcticas, and Alaskas, the most far-flung reaches of the NYC empire?

 What’s the northern most part of the city? The southern most part? The eastern most part? The western most part?

Okay, so none of you have never thought about it but, in the “you-learn-something-new-everyday” department, here they are, the most extreme neighborhoods and parts of NYC:

West: West Side of Manhattan 

Four out of the five boroughs are represented here with only Brooklyn not making the cut. Okay, so now you know. You have another conversation starter. You’re welcome.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Gilda Forever


And another thing ...

... you should, in this case, read, about what it's like to live in, then leave, and then try to return to NYC.

Short answer: it ain't easy! 

Local Journalism in NYC

Local journalism is under threat in NYC.

You should listen to this segment from WNYC radio about how it's serious, almost terminal, decline, and how this is bad for our city and its democracy. 

Curtis Sliwa Stalks My World

NYC is a city of 8.5+ million people so it unusual to run into the same person, either on the street or elsewhere, multiple times. 

Any yet, for reasons that dumbfound me, I've encountered Guardian Angels founder/radio host/TV commentator/NYC character extraordinaire Curtis Sliwa more times than I can remember.

The first time I do remember: it was back in the mid-1990s, I was walking down 8th Avenue, and he walked right by me. Then I saw him in the subways a few times with his Guardian Angel compatriots.

Lately, he's been popping up in the most odd places. 

Last year, taking the LIRR, he walked into my car, looking exhausted. Then I saw him at the Douglaston-Little Neck parade where he marched (he does this every year). And then, just last week, I was in Penn Station and saw him at McDonalds.

I've seen Curtis Sliwa more than any other random New Yorker I can name. I don't see him every day but it's weird that he's just around ... here and there, popping up ... He's ubiquitous.

So yes, Curtis Sliwa (sorta) stalks my world.

And if you're reading this ... Hi Curtis! 


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Guy Molinari is Dead ...

... and that's the only normal story about NYC Republican men in the news today. To whit:

Joe Lhota runs the MTA but doesn't actually work for it (!?!?!!?!?) and Donald Trump is caught on tap planning to pay off a mistress.


Ah, Republican men. Almost makes you want to become a Democratic woman. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Air Rage


Radio Battle!

Last week, former WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate began a new show on WBAI.

This caused one of WBAI's longtime hosts, a guy named Jay Smooth who hosts (or hosted) a rap show on the station, to quit in protest because Lopate was fired from WNYC for unclear reasons involving his conduct with women. Never mind that rap music hasn't always had the greatest track record when it comes to attitudes towards women, hiring a nearly 80-year old man to talk about boring issues was too much for this guy.

But Jay Smooth should be happy.

WNYC has hired a woman named Allison Stewart to take over Lopate's old spot. She is a Peabody award-winning journalist so she certainly is qualified.

Here's my take: people should be able to work. Short of a criminal conviction, I don't believe in blackballing. That's what went on during McCarthyism and it's shameful.

Naturally, one is free to disagree.

City Charter Review

This week in NYC something important is happening below the radar: the city Charter Review Commission is holding public hearings to get input into how the NYC Charter -- basically, the city's very own constitution -- should be updated.

Until the end of the month, there will be hearings in each borough and you can find more info about them here.

Some of the issues to be discussed about revising the charter: improving community boards, making the campaign finance system even less donor-dependent, instant run-off voting in primaries, redistricting, and creating an office of civic engagement. 

It's easy to get upset at the news these days, constantly shouting at the TV or Internet, feeling powerless. But here is an opportunity for all New Yorkers to actually do something about how they're governed, to give (and take) the power that regulates our lives.

P.S. This is not the first time I've blogged about the City Charter. In 2009 I did a short post and it got an interest reply. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Money Well Spent?

Balancing a checkbook is hard. It's not easy to make money, and saving it is harder, so how we spend our money, and what we spend it on, is something we constantly struggle with.

I have no advice to proffer about what you or anyone should spend money on. But I believe in the maxim only to buy things that you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful or that make you happy. Everything else is a waste of money.

But even then it's not always easy to know what to spend money on. Sometimes a wise purchase looks less wise in retrospect. Conversely, sometimes today's savings is tomorrow expense ("penny-wise-and-pound-foolish").

Take, for example, the Second Avenue Subway. For decades, we were told that NYC needed this and, finally, after billions of dollars spent, it opened in 2017. And yet ... ridership is relatively low. And the money spent on it was not spent on improvements to existing lines. Was it money well spent? It's not clear.

Same with WNYC radio. The great hometown public radio station is a long ways ways from being a municipal utility. Today, it's a giant business, with hundreds of employees, sisters stations, and numerous podcasts and streams. And it pays accordingly: when added up, the CEO of WNYC makes over $1 million a year. Much of this comes from donors and "sponsors" (i.e. advertisers) of the station. Sure, WNYC is great radio but does the CEO deserve to be paid that much? I'm not 100% certain.

Finally, is axing a massive amount of staffers from the Daily News really a financially prudent move? Yes, it'll save money in the short term but in the long term a great NYC paper will be diminished and not really be worth reading. You can't do great journalism on the cheap and, in my opinion, this'll hurt paper in the long run and probably cost it more money. 

Money is hard -- to make, save, spend, and most of all, get the greatest value from. This is vexing problem and, as we see in NYC today, even the most powerful among us struggle with it.

OZY Fest 2018


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Summerhill & The Battle for the Soul of Brooklyn

Gentrification is a big topic these days, in NYC and elsewhere, but it's such a general term that it's hard to identify what it is exactly.

Rich people moving into previously poor neighborhoods -- who are they?

They're changing the "character" of the neighborhood -- how?

Much of this gentrification is academic -- so how about an example?

Here's one: Summerhill, a bar/restaurant that opened in a gentrifying part of Brooklyn and became a flashpoint -- even inspiring protests -- between black residents and the white owners. It got heated and nasty until ... it didn't.

The story of how Summerhill came to Brooklyn and was at first resisted, then accepted, was recently made a segment on the great public radio show This American Life. You can listen to that hear, and you can also read some of the coverage about the controversy and its aftermath.

This is a great example of how gentrification disrupts and then consolidates itself in NYC. You might take away from this example that resistance is futile -- or that maybe resistance isn't really the solution for the unending ramifications of gentrification. 

And you'll never think of bullet holes in quite the same way. 


Flatiron Steam Pipe Explosion!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Interview: Amy Sohn, NYC Columnist & Novelist

Back in the late 1990s, as the world was falling in love with the fictional Carrie Bradshaw and her friends, and their fictional friends’ dating adventures (in a mostly fictional NYC), a real columnist named Amy Sohn was writing about her real dating adventures in the real NYC.

First at the New York Press, then at the New York Post, then at New York magazine, Amy wrote with a blunt, hilarious honesty about the vicissitudes of not only sex and romance but also about the challenges of being a human being in a city that worships money, power, and vanity. I first discovered Amy in 1999, right after I’d returned to NYC from college, and her original New York Press column, “Female Trouble”, was an eye-opening look at the NYC single life that I was entering into. More than just entertaining and funny, her column was educational.

Amy’s work has evolved from those days, and she is now a successful novelist. Along the way, she’s also become a wife and mother. Amy was kind enough to share with Mr NYC some background about her life and work, as well as her thoughts and feelings about #MeToo and relationships and life in NYC today.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you want to become a writer?

When I was 19 I was a summer-camp counselor and my boyfriend at camp, the cook, turned me on to Bukowski, Fante, and Algren. I started writing autobiographical stories, mostly about dating and sex, in the vein of Buk, my hero, in a big unlined notebook. Around 1994, when I was a junior at Brown, I began performing the stories downtown at a performance space called AS 220, at open mics and variety shows. It was a vibrant scene filled with music and provocation. I felt I fit in really well there. I always wrote for the purpose of reading my stories aloud.

Your New York Press dating column "Female Trouble" from the late 1990s was shocking and groundbreaking. It was honest and raw, very personal and intimate, and I don't remember reading anything quite like it at the time. Then came along "Sex and the City", blogs, etc. and shocking became mainstream. What made you want to write this column back then and do you view "Female Trouble" as the precursor to a change in the culture?

I was a temp and actress (temptress) living with my parents right after graduating and my dad used to bring home this weird paper. I got into it and was taken by the first-person columns, especially Howard Altman and Jim Knipfel. The stories felt real and honest and they were painfully funny. I wanted to get published. I think my first actual published story was in Playgirl but that’s another story. I sent a piece to John Strausbaugh at New York Press and he sent it back with a note in the margin that said it might be right for SWANK or Penthouse. I had never heard of SWANK but I got the idea. I tried a different story, “The Blow-Up Boyfriend,” and sent that one to John. It was about my fantasy of having an inflatable boyfriend that I could deflate whenever he talked about his band too much. They bought that one, and one or two more, and a few weeks later they offered me a column. I wanted to call it Maidenhead, a terrible title. Sam Sifton, John, and Russ Smith convinced me to call it “Female Trouble.” Of course they were John Waters fans, Russ and John having come from the Baltimore city paper. (They later taught me what a "Baltimore round" is.)

I agree that the term “sex and the city” was very shocking at the time. Just the word “sex” was arresting. The nineties were very odd in the mainstreaming of sex. In my column I tried to be honest and self-deprecating. When I was grandiose it was done with a big wink. Behind my pathetic stories there was really a lot of rage. I didn’t understand why men my age were so cruel and disinterested in love and connection. But I picked very bad paramours. Thank God no one I was obsessed with in the 90s reciprocated. It would have ruined my life. I would be mother to a lot of elusive rocker boy babies and figuring out how to deal with my co-dependence. Did I really want to be a member of any club that would have me? Probably not.

“Female Trouble” had good timing. I think women my generation, dating in the recession, in the “reality bites” scene, were frustrated with these narcissistic guys. I can’t speak for why “Sex and the City” the column came along when it did. She was chronicling a different demographic but I think we were both struggling with a feeling of anger and powerlessness. Why did men control the stories? Why did men always get to pick? Why didn’t women get to pick?

You went from the New York Press in the 1990s to the New York Post and New York magazine in the early 2000s. What did you do at those jobs and what was it like working for those publications as the Internet was changing the journalism business?

I was at New York Press for 3 1/2 years, sometimes writing weekly, sometimes biweekly, and at one point also writing an advice column. I left for the New York Post, thinking it could be a chance to do more pop-cultural writing but it was a very bad fit. They wanted the sentences short because the typeface was big. I also made the mistake of posing in a nightie, lying on my stomach, feet kicked up behind me, with no shoes, and even though I have wide, flat feet I got fan letters from foot fetishists for years. I quit after about four months. I had also published my first novel, Run Catch Kiss by the time I left New York Press and wanted to devote time to writing a second novel.

At New York my column was first called “Sex Matters,” then “Naked City,” “Mating,” and “Breeding.” In it I interviewed New Yorkers about their sexual predilections. I learned not to judge people. I also learned that under the cover of anonymity people will tell you almost anything. Some of the people I interviewed are really famous now in their chosen fields - composers and stylists. They would talk to me about how there were no bottoms in New York or what it’s like to date two people at once. I enjoyed the chance not to write about myself but I also felt that the short length allotted to the column made it hard for me to dig deep with my subjects. The magazine was never quite sure where the sex fit in, I remember the column moved around, from the back near penis-enlargement and personal ads (when New York had its own personals) and later to the front when I was writing more about marriage and kids. I was at New York from 2001 to 2006.

You've published five novels (Run Catch Kiss, Motherland, My Old Man, Prospect Park West, and The Actress) about relationships, parenthood, and the challenges of life in NYC. Do all of these novels relate to your experiences that came with the stages of life in NYC, i.e. going from single woman to wife and mother?

Some of my books are less autobiographical than others. The Actress was mostly set in LA and I did a lot of research for it. I wanted to break away from social satire and try melodrama. It didn’t really work because the novel needed a murder and my editors and I did not agree about that. I also learned that modern novels about marriage and divorce are troubled and troubling because divorce is so widely accepted, even if upsetting and expensive.

What does feminism mean to you? Do you consider yourself a feminist and does your work relate to it in any way?

I have called myself a feminist since I was a teenager. I grew up in the progressive Jewish Reform movement and progressive values went hand in hand with religion. I attended a big pro-choice rally around 1992. I never thought “feminist" was a dirty word. Years later, in the 90s, I interviewed a celebrity who was uncomfortable when I asked if she was a feminist and I found it absolutely bizarre. That was another era, when the word itself was something women feared.

What do you think of #MeToo?

My feelings are incredibly complicated. It’s important that women are sharing their stories and bringing sexual harassment and rape into the national conversation. As a strong believer in due process, I'm concerned about the cases in which men have lost their jobs based on extremely limited evidence, sometimes just one story that has two sides. I worry that we are in a moment of sex panic. None of us know the ultimate outcome of the movement. I also think about women who need to be mentored by men to advance in their professions (because men still hold the vast majority of the power) -- and men who are now afraid to spend one-on-one time with them for fear of false accusations. As with so many things, women are the ones who pay the price for that. What do you hope to write about in the future? I’m now writing narrative non-fiction (historical) for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but my book deals with women’s rights in the 19th century and I find the stories deeply gratifying. This was a time when marital rape and forced pregnancy and childbirth were the norm. It was just called “marriage."

How do you feel about how NYC has changed over the years? Do you ever get nostalgic for the old days?

Of course I do - I’m a native New Yorker! The money bums me out. The people bum me out. The phones on the subways. The phones everywhere. The corporate stores. But when I get depressed I walk up and down Church Avenue in Brooklyn. New York is still alive, you just have to know where to find it.

Finally, tell us something about Amy Sohn that we might not know.

I was a child actress and got my Actors Equity card at age 12.

Thanks Amy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Cultah', cultah', cultah': Part Deux

Okay, we live in scary times but, when it comes to culture in NYC, it has never been a better time to be in the cultural capital of the world.

Whadda we got? 

Well, in NYC, the amount of culture is head spinning, we got SO MUCH STUFF, but here are a few choice things you might not know about: we got an exhibit about Rebel Women at the Museum of the City of New York, we got superheros saving Brooklyn, and we got so many great coffee shops that you could spend the entire summer doing nothing but going to them and drinking great coffee and eating tasty treats.

Best of all -- or should I saw BEST BEST BEST OF ALL -- a huge swath of NYC culture is now  available FOR FREE!!! If you have a public library card (issued by either NYPL, Queens Public or Brooklyn Public Libararies), you can now go up to 33 cultural institutions in this city FOR FREE! It includes some great places like the Frick, the Whitney, the Queens Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Intrepid, the Transit Museum, the Noguchi, and so much more! This is an amazing gift to the people of this city.

And, of course, culture in NYC is given to us by people, including some people we might otherwise call amateurs (I consider this blog a gift of amateur culture). There was a guy named Les Lieber who just died but who hosted a weekly event called Jazz at Noon where musicians, amateur or professional (including Lieber, an amateur musician), could come and jam. Lieber hosted this event for 45 years and ended in 2011. More amazing, Lieber died at the amazing age of 106 so, as culture lovers, we should be thankful for his long life and the huge cultural gift he gave this city.

Yes, the times are troubling but, in NYC, our culture is thriving as never before. And, when a city and a nation's culture thrive, it should give us a degree of hope for the future.

P.S. You might be wondering why I entitled this post as "Part Deux" -- it's because I wrote a post originally entitled "Cultah', Cultah', Cultah" back in 2011 where I blogged about a weekly TV show called Sunday Arts about culture in NYC. Well, Sunday Arts is now NYC Arts and, sadly, the other show I mentioned, Vine Talk, is no longer on the air. 

Cultah' in NYC is forever changing but it's always great. 


Memo from NYC

Remember when we had a real president?


Friday, July 13, 2018

Dead or Alive. Or both?

NYC has "died" or "fallen" many times.

Jane Jacobs wrote about the "death" of NYC in the 1960s, Annie Hall declared that it was "a dying city" in the 1970s, and Robert Caro blamed NYC master builder/planner Robert Moses as contributing to its "fall" in The Power BrokerNYC keeps dying and falling and then revivifying and getting back up all the time.

Today, it seems to be doing both, depending on who you ask -- or, more importantly, read.

I turned your attention to two MASSIVE articles that examine this "dead or alive" debate. One is called The Death of a Once Great City and the other is New York City is alive and well.

Once interesting is that these two articles agree on a lot about the current malaise that afflicts NYC. Namely, the city is hostage to market forces, jacking up rents and the cost of living, and changing the face and character of the city for the worse i.e. rich and boring as opposed to working class and fun -- and that the state and city government needs to do more to stop this. But the "death" article seems a tad myopic since it seems to confuse Manhattan with NYC while the "alive" article rightly states that most of NYC is NOT Manhattan and is actually thriving. 

While I understand the feelings in the "death" article, I think the "alive" article is more correct: NYC is still a hot bed of excitement but its been moving out of Manhattan for a long, long time. The city has, in fact, been changing forever (another things both articles agree on) so declaring that the city is "dead or alive" is a pointless argument: it's changing, in some ways better, some ways worse, now and forever. And the government can and always should do more to help its citizens. 


Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mrs Maisel Goes to the Emmys

The fun NYC-centric Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel just scored a bunch of Emmy nominations -- and they were richly deserved. 

It's a great show, very funny, beautifully written and acted.

And, of course, I especially love it since it takes place in the neighborhood I grew up in.

Good luck! 


Perils of Food Tech

I just read this piece about how farmer markets that serve low-income neighborhoods are set to stop accepting cash-free payments later this summer.

That's bad because SNAP benefits are now electronic, and recipients get credits when they buy healthy foods.

This is due, unfortunately, to nothing less than changes in technology and it will prevent people from buying the freshest, healthiest food, or make purchasing it harder (i.e. shlepping to supermarkets in "food deserts").

This is another example of how government needs to do more to help the neediest among us and not become too dependent on the private tech sector.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Bizarre 1980s Today

If you're a Netflix junkie like moi then you're familiar with the comedy show GLOW (about the bizarre 1980s female wrestling show), and Wild Wild Country (about the bizarre cult-commune in Oregon during the early 1980s). 

What's most bizarre is the fact that these shows exist at all. Why, after thirty-something years, are these otherwise completely forgotten 1980s phenomena back and more popular than ever? They were small relics, minor curiosities of a long-gone decade, and suddenly they're big-time today.  

The Internet -- specifically streaming services -- are really amazing things. They manage to dredge of parts of the past we didn't know still existed. But they're part of something broader, I think, an attempt to try to understand the past in order to understand our bizarre present. And the past, it turns out, was truly bizarre.

One such forgotten story now being resurrected (although not on Netflix, not yet) was the story of Bess Myerson -- the Bronx girl who became the first (and only) Jewish Miss America in 1945, then became a political and cultural doyenne of NYC in the 1960s and '70s until she became sleazy tabloid fodder in the late 1980s when she went on trial for trying to bribe a judge. Her case was, and the cast of "only in New York" characters were truly ... bizarre. 

And now her daughter, of all people, is mounting a play about her mother out in California, about their relationship and what it was like to be the daughter of a woman who was once admired, then admonished, by the world.

It's yet another once forgotten bizarre story from the 1980s now suddenly remembered again. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

NYC Comebacks

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that "there are no second acts in American lives" but that's not really true -- Americans love a good comeback.

So I'm very happy that two New Yorkers who looked like they were destined to be forgotten are reemerging.

First, Leonard Lopate, the brilliant radio interviewer who was bizarrely and unfairly fired from WNYC radio last year. Next week he'll be back on WBAI with a new show. I can't wait to hear it!   

Second, John Liu, the former City Comptroller who is challenging Trump Democrat State Senator Tony Avella in the September primary. Liu challenged him in 2014 and came close to beating him so, hopefully, this time he'll win. Avella was responsible for keeping the GOP in charge so he richly deserves defeat and Lie would be a great replacement.

What a great town this is! 

Migrant Children in NYC


The Paris Review Today

Growing up, always clustered on one of my parents' many bookshelves, were myriad copies of The Paris Review, the literary magazine founded in 1953 by the late George Plimpton.

Plimpton was a larger than life character, a bon vivant extrodinaire, whose parties were almost as famous as his magazine that published such luminaries as Samuel Becket, Jack Kerouac, and Philip Roth. Plimpton not only edited the magazine and hosted the parties but he also wrote books chronicling his one-shot experiences as a football player and a boxer, as well as his friendship with Robert Kennedy (with whom Plimpton was with when RFK was killed). Plimpton also died suddenly, in 2003, and since then the editorship of The Paris Review has passed through a few hands, sometimes with troubling results.

This year a young woman named Emily Nemens has become the editor and she is promising to make the ultimate good-'ol-boy, Old New York swinging literary journal into a fully "woke" #MeToo multi-media enterprise. How this will unfold remains to be seen but it's a tribute to the magazine and Plimpton's legacy that it has survived fifteen-years after his death, and that someone like Nemens, as different form Plimpton as one can be, can take the helm. 

And maybe she'll discover the 21st Century version of Jack Kerouac (who won't necessarily be a man). 



Monday, July 9, 2018

... you know it ain't easy

Challenging power isn't easy -- power, after all, is called power for a reason: it's the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others and the course of events. It's the ability "to do" vs. "to want." We all "want" but few of us can "do" because we lack the ability. 

To challenge that ability, to try and take that ability away from someone, is brutally difficult and often fails. Power armors itself, ready to defend and strike its challengers at all times -- but sometimes, just sometimes, challengers find a chink in that armor, then defeat and capture it.

Such is what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did last month. Such is what Elizabeth Holtzman did in 1972 (Ocasio-Cortez beat a twenty-year incumbent and Holtzman beat a fifty-year incumbent). Such is what Julia Salazar is trying to do in September. Finding the chink, defeating the power, taking it over -- power doesn't yield without a fight but it can be beaten ... sometimes. Cynthia Nixon is trying to do it to Andrew Cuomo but it'll hard.

And what are the results from who has power vs. who doesn't?

Take for example, the "arc tunnel" that Governor Christie killed back in 2010 and that President Trump is trying to kill today. They don't want it for political reasons and used and are using their power to stop it. They people who do want it don't have the power -- or not enough. And so nothing gets done (for now). 

Same with the "pied-a-terre" tax that would apply to rich people who own but don't live in their NYC real estate as their primary residence. This tax would generate massive revenue for the city to fund affordable housing. But rich people, powerful people, don't want it so it's not happening (not now, at least).

That's why it's very important for us not only to give power to people we believe in but also to people who have the ability (that buzz word again) to find the chink in the armor of those other powerful people who impede progress and the common good.

Power isn't just about winning elections -- it's about having the ability to see where you can find it or steal it and, most of all, use it. What else is power for?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Public Servants

The problem with politics these days is that the media covers it like sports: who's "up", who's "down", who's "winning", who's "losing", who's raised the most money, who's this-that-or-the-other thing. It's always about the horse race, the fights, the personalities, the next election, etc. etc. etc. 

Political coverage is never really about policy -- or, just as importantly, service.

Politics is, ultimately, about getting and keeping power (i.e. winning elections and getting re-elected). But service is something else -- it's about helping people, whether in elected office or not.  For politicians, service is supposed to be their jobs, the thing they were elected to do, that stuff they're supposed to do between elections. Some politicians are great public servants (like Obama). Some politicians are horrible public servants (like Trump). Yet service is, ultimately, what the sorting process of politics is supposed to be all about. 

Unfortunately, for the media and many in politics today, they have no interest in service since the sorting process is all they care about. 

Service is something that my family has, for generations, engaged in. We believe in helping others -- full stop. None of them have ever served in public office -- instead, they've served in humanitarian organizations in counties in Africa and Asia and South America, they're doctors, teachers, counselors. No power, no money, no fame -- just the work. 

But some politicians are great public servants and deserve that recognition. They actually do the work -- and have committed their lives to it. 

Here in New York State we have two great examples: Charles Rangel, who served in the US House for 46 years, and Richard Gottfried who has served in the NYS Assembly for 48 years. It's easy to classify them as "lifetime politicians" but, when you look at their careers, as they do in these interviews, it's wonderful to see how much and for how long they have served their constituents, state, and country.

They are true public servants, and New York is lucky to have them -- and we may night ever see their king ever again. 

P.S. Here's another public servant who, until now, was totally unknown to the public and who we didn't even know existed -- the person who updates the MTA website and social media with announcements (often about delays). Talk about a thankless job -- and a real servant of the people. 

P.P.S. And talking more about public servants (this one hits close to home): did you know that right after World War I there was a hastily constructed "Arch of Triumph" in Madison Square Park (right across from the Flatiron building) that soldiers returning from the war marched under in 1919 (the war ended in November 1918, nearly 100 years ago)? The arch didn't last long and was never replaced. And it hits close to home because one of those soldiers was my grandfather.