The Land Where St. Patrick Walked

March 17, 2011

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue is the world’s biggest, noisiest, happiest celebration of Ireland and its patron saint. Between the dancing, drinking and green hair, it is easy for an observer to think that those who hail from “the land with 40 shades of green” have always been welcome and accepted here.

But the story of the Irish in New York has many a tragic side. Most terrible is the reason that so many Irish citizens arrived on our shores 150 years ago; they were fleeing the disaster known as An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). The devestation began in the late 1840s, when a virus attacked the potatoes planted in the fields of the land where St. Patrick had walked.

Cheap, filling, and easy to grow, potatoes were an essential source of nutrition for poor, rural Irish families. When the virus caused the potato plants to wither and their crops to fail, it wasn’t long before starvation set in.

The Great Hunger, also known as the Great Potato Famine, lasted from 1845 to 1852. During that period approximately one million Irish people died and two million more emigrated, many of them landing in New York Harbor. Now, in a quiet corner of Battery Park, near the spot where those desperate survivors arrived, stands the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Created by New York artist Brian Tolle, the memorial opened in 2002 on a quarter-acre of land shaped to resemble a burial mound cut from an Irish hillside. The base of the memorial is made of slabs of concrete interlaced with bands of plexiglass-covered metal bearing excerpts from reports, poems, songs, sermons and letters describing the desperation and destitution of the victims of the famine. These are intermingled with information about world hunger today.

After walking around the base, visitors walk through a short, dark corridor where recorded voices recite facts about the Hunger and emerge into a small atrium lined with stone walls. A dirt path winds up the hill past thirty-two massive stones, each marked with the name the Irish county that donated it, a roofless stone cottage, wildflowers and grasses, all imported from Ireland.

Every aspect of this small patch of land is significant and symbolic; even the size of the space reflects the Irish Poor Law of 1847, which denied relief to those living on land larger than a quarter of acre. Small, subtle and enormously moving, the Irish Hunger Memorial helps illuminate the wonderful, terrible history of the Irish in New York City.

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Approaching the memorial from West Street

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Closer to the entrance

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Plantings overhanging the concrete

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Through the entry corridor

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Words on the walls

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More quotations on the walls

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The words stretch on

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Climbing the hill

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The view from the top of the hill

CRG Gallery: Brian Tolle
The New York Times: A Memorial Remembers The Hungry
New York Magazine: Irish Hunger Memorial
NYC: Battery Park
Battery Park Conservancy


01.01.11

January 1, 2011

I wasn’t thinking about the significance of the date when I made an appointment for December 31 on the Upper East Side. It was only when I was en route that I realized that to reach my destination, I had to change trains at Times Square. It was still early in the day, but the place was already a madhouse.

When I got to my appointment, I sadly told the person I was meeting that my route had taken me through Times Square. She laughed and said, “Now I know you’re a real New Yorker! Only New Yorkers try to stay away from Times Square on New Year’s Eve — the tourists can’t wait to get there!”

She was, of course, correct, and as soon as our meeting concluded, I made a hasty retreat to Brooklyn, where I spotted this reveler on Montague Street. Happy new year!

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Woman celebrating the new year in Downtown Brooklyn


A Very Porky Christmas

December 25, 2010

The folks at Esposito’s Pork Store on Brooklyn’s Court Street have decorated for the season. Have a very porky Christmas!

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The store

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Santa Pig

New York Magazine: Esposito’s Pork Store


Happy Freecycle Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

All over America, at this very moment, people are peeling, chopping, roasting and baking, busily preparing traditional Thanksgiving meals. But one person in Brooklyn is seeking an alternative to expending all that time, effort and money via a Freecycle Thanksgiving.

Freecycle, if you are not familiar with it, is a simple, rather noble concept: those who have things they can’t use give them freely, as gifts, to those who need them. The object is to reduce waste, save valuable resources and ease the burden on landfills.

Freecycle members contact each other online using message boards operated by the Freecycle Network. While most members post messages describing the items they want to give away, a few request items they want but don’t have.

This “wanted” listing, posted the evening before Thanksgiving, struck me as particularly ambitious and audacious, and I can’t help wondering what type of response it will generate.

In any case, however you choose to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

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The notice on the Freecycle Web site

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A closer view of the post

Freecycle
Freecycle Brooklyn


R.I.P. Michael

November 8, 2010

Today, as I emerged from the Clark Street subway station onto Henry Street, my eye was drawn to a bright spot of color beyond the doors. Moving closer, I saw that the vibrant hues were actually candles and bouquets placed on the sidewalk. The location, just outside a college dormitory, is a stop for a private bus that shuttles students from their Brooklyn residence to Manhattan.

Feeling dread, I approached the man working in the coffee stand adjacent to the spot and asked whether he knew anything about the flowers. Sadly, he told me that early yesterday morning a student had committed suicide; he’d leapt from an eighth-floor window. “My boss,” the man said, “was here when it happened. He didn’t see the boy fall, but he heard him hit the sidewalk.” He pointed out that the pole of the bus stop was covered with handwritten notes carefully taped to the steel.

As we spoke, a young woman came out of the building and knelt at the makeshift memorial, arranging a box of sweets among the flowers. The boy who fell, she said, was a close friend, only 19 years old. He jumped to the cold, dark street at 2:15 a.m.

I later read more about the tragic death in the newspaper, including the name of the young man who died, Michael Simmons. He was a talented actor who had recently arrived from Tempe, Arizona to study at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. My heart goes out to his friends and family.

R.I.P. Michael.

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Flowers, candles and a box of sweets

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Notes on the bus stop pole

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R.I.P.

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A friend mourns

The Brooklyn Paper: Death plunge at the St. George Hotel
New York Daily News: Friends say mushrooms contributed to fatal fall


Canon Expo 2010

September 2, 2010

Canon Expo is held once every five years to showcase the wide range of advanced imaging technologies from the Japan-based corporation’s divisions: Vision, Consumer and Home Office, Office Equipment Print Production and Graphic Arts, Professional Photography, Video and Projection, Broadcast and Communications and Healthcare Technologies.

The exhibit filled 150,000 square feet of the Jacob K. Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side. Sections of the Expo were designed to replicate art galleries, research laboratories, theaters, printing plants, offices, stages, call centers, photographic studios, medical facilities, a football stadium, fashion shows, printing plants, a skating rink, stadiums and tourist attractions — the types of environments in which Canon products are frequently used.

Canon displayed items that are currently for sale as well as models and prototypes of gear that may be available in the future. One of the most interesting gadgets exhibited was the Cross Media Station, a device still in the planning stages. Simply by placing still or video cameras atop the Station, a user could wirelessly download, view and transmit images — even from multiple devices — while simultaneously recharging them. The designers of the Station were present to answer questions (via a translator) and aid with the demonstration.

A fascinating area dubbed the Canon Gallery displayed outstanding photos as well as the work of the Tsuzuri Project, joint effort of Canon and the Kyoto Culture Association. The Tsuzuri Project is designed to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage by employing the most advanced technology to create and print full-sized high-resolution digital images of screens, paintings and other precious fragile cultural artifacts. The near-perfect replicas are donated to the owners of the original works, who put them on display while placing the treasures themselves in a safe, controlled environments where they can be preserved for future generations.

In another section, physicians (yes, real, licensed ophthalmologists) operated equipment that scans the eye and instantly provides information about whether a patient has, or is developing, a range of serious medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

I was delighted by the opportunity to use Canon’s professional-grade cameras and join the pack on mock-ups of a TV stage and a fashion show (first lesson: those professional cameras and lenses weigh a ton!), and I consulted with the product and technical geniuses about my next camera purchase. One of the most important features? It must be lightweight.

Towards the end of the day, a Canon rep who was answering my questions took me aside and, sotto voce, said, “I’m not supposed to talk about this, but …” He then told me about a camera that Canon is currently developing, noting that it will address just about everything on my “most-wanted feature list” and will be (almost) within my budget. I’m going to start putting my pennies aside for the camera that cannot say its name.

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The Expo’s slogan displayed on a wall

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Entering the Canon Expo

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Printing books on demand

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Attendees used HDTV cameras on the set

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In the Canon Gallery

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At the sports stadium

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A professional explains his techniques

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Model at the fashion show

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Model shot with Canon EOS 7D

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On the runway

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Model shot with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Canon Expo 2010
PC Magazine: Canon Shows Off Concept Cameras at Expo
The Tsuzuri Project (Cultural Heritage Inheritance Project)
Canon Unveils The Future Of Imaging At Canon EXPO 2010 New York
MarketWatch: Canon Unveils the Future of Imaging


No more photos! No more photos!

September 1, 2010

“No more photos!,” cried the guard, waving his hand in front of my camera. “No more photos! The museum is closed! You go now!”

Well, not exactly closed, but almost. It was 5:20 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was getting ready to shut its doors for the day. I was part of the throng heading towards the main entrance when the guard saw me pause at the entrance to the Greek and Roman galleries to snap a picture.

I responded to his excited command with a smile and a nod. I briskly moved forward again, keeping my camera in hand but concealing it from the guard’s gimlet eye.

As I hurried out of Greek and Roman, I captured this shot of a tourist inspecting the work known as Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head), ca. A.D. 69–96.

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Viewing a Roman statue

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Fragments of a marble statue of the Diadoumenos
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Galleries
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greek and Roman Art


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