26th Annual Sakura Matsuri

April 29, 2007

Once again, it is time for Sakura Matsuri, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s 26th  weekend-long Cherry Blossom Festival. This year, the sky was overcast, the breeze chilly and only a small number of the cherry trees were in bloom, but that didn’t put a damper on this annual celebration of Japanese culture.

Bundled-up families had picnics on the grass, then squeezed into the entertainment tents for workshops and demonstrations of ice sculpture, flower arranging, paper folding and cutting and doll-making. They listened to Japanese music (both traditional works and the latest J-Pop), watched a troupe of folk dancers, marvelled at a samurai drama and saw a performance called “Akin Funk Buddah’s Urban Tea Ceremony: Japanese Ritual Meets Classic Hip-Hop.”

Pink Blossoms
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Woman With Pink Parasol
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Women with fans
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Girl With Fabric Blossom in Her Hair
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Girl with stuffed cat
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Dance of 5 Fans
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Scene from Samuri Drama “The Red Shadow”
Originally uploaded by annulla.

J-Pop Star Zan
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Zan Singing
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Minbu Folk Dance
Originally uploaded by annulla.

White cherry blossoms
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Cherry blossoms
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Cherry blossom buds
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Smooching Under a Cherry Tree
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Sakura Matsuri
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Zan: Official Site
The Japanese Folk Dance Institute of NY
Samurai Sword Soul
Akim Funk Buddha
Wikipedia: J-Pop

The Dance-In Drive-In Movie

April 28, 2007

Drive-in theaters are the product of a time and place (America in the early 20th century) where land and gasoline were plentiful and cheap. Uniting two national passions cars and movies thousands of drive-in theaters operated across the country during the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, they are rapidly disappearing from the landscape and in New York City (which has the lowest rate of private automobile ownership and highest real estate prices in the U.S.) there are none at all.

But this week, the Tribeca Film Festival recreated the drive-in experience in Lower Manhattan. Today a large screen, loudspeakers and rows of chairs were erected in the cove behind the World Financial Center for an event called the “Tribeca Drive-In.”

Early arrivals received free popcorn, candy, drinks and seat cushions and settled in for a special screening of Planet B-Boy. The film is a new documentary about Battle Of The Year, a world-wide break-dance competition held annually in Germany.

The evening’s program began when Fab 5 Freddy, the former host of Yo! MTV Raps (who is now known as the grandfather of the New York hip-hop scene), welcomed the crowd. He explained that “B-Boy” stands for, variously, “Break-Boy,” “Beat-Boy” or “Bronx-Boy,” and is the preferred term for those who practice this form of dancing.

He went on to introduce Ken Swift, one of the original members of the fabled Rock Steady Crew, who demonstrated “classic” break-dancing moves and gave lessons to audience members. Other live performers included the Persuaders, the Beatbox Orchestra, Knucklehead Zoo, Toni Blackman and the Drifters (a team of B-Boys from Korea).

By the time the sky was dark enough for the main attraction, the crowd that had gathered at the “Drive-In” was overflowing and enraptured. Even when it began to rain, the crowd stayed in place to watch the film and, afterwards, to give director Benson Lee a standing ovation.

Fab 5 Freddy
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Ken Swift
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Knucklehead Zoo
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Originally uploaded by annulla.

The Persuaders
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Beat Box Orchestra
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Planet B-Boy
MySpace: Planet B-Boy
Battle of the Year
Tribeca Drive In
Fab 5 Freddy
Rock Steady Crew
Ken Swift’s Breaklife
Knucklehead Zoo
Toni Blackman
The Persuaders
Google video: Drifters (Korea) v. Pokeman (France)
Wikipedia: Drive In
Wikipedia: Yo! MTV Raps
World Financial Center

The Pink Post Office

April 27, 2007

In downtown Manhattan, at the corner of Church and Canal Streets, sits the pale pink Post Office known as the Canal Street Station.

Designed by Alan Balch Mills, completed in 1939 and restored in the early 1990s, most of the exterior is covered in glazed terracotta tiles in a shade called “rosy buff.” At the entrance, the tiles of the facade are colored oxblood, green and black with silver metallic lusters. If you pass through the small, shabby vestibule, you’ll see an enormous gilded terra-cotta bas-relief credited to Wheeler William.

While this certainly isn’t the only pink post office in the world (Sarajevo has long boasted a beautiful, ornate pink and white wedding cake of a post office), it is without question the finest pink post office in New York City.

On The Corner of Church & Canal Streets
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Doorway to Post Office
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Close Up of Pink Vestibule
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Bas-Relief by Wheeler William (1938)
Originally uploaded by annulla.

NYCJPG: Canal Street Station
Canal Street Station Post Office Under Restoration
About the Sarajevo Post Office
BBC: Photo of Saravjevo Post Office during restoration

Big Knocker

April 25, 2007

This large, ornate brass knocker is engraved with the words NYPD Intell. It is mounted on a door in the basement of New York City Hall.

Originally uploaded by annulla.

Looking Back

April 23, 2007

In the mid-1950s, a struggling young director with a failing production company staged the work of an unsuccessful young playwright and — overnight — changed British theater.

The producers were the English Stage Company, the director was Tony Richardson, the playwright was John Osborne and the play was Look Back in Anger. Based on the battles and ultimate breakup of Osborne’s explosive first marriage, it catapulted its author, the prototypical “angry young man,” to fame, fortune and widespread acclaim.

Osborne was an immensely talented writer, a loyal and amusing friend, a cruel son, a horrible husband and an absolutely vile father. Following Look Back in Anger, he turned out a long string of hits while breaking the heart of nearly every woman who played an important role in his life.

This evening the New York Public Library brought Osborne and his work back to life with Looking Back on John Osborne, a performance in the intimate (200 seat) Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts.

The program featured Michael Sheen and Natasha Richardson reading from Osborne’s plays, letters and journals. Sheen, who recently portrayed Tony Blair in The Queen, is currently starring on Broadway as David Frost in Frost/Nixon. Richardson, recipient of a Tony Award for her work in a Broadway revival of Cabaret, had a personal connection to Osborne. Her father, Tony, directed Osborne’s first successful play and the men were close friends to the end of their lives. 

Introduction and commentary was provided by John Heilpern, author of John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man. He discussed the man and his work, emphasizing both Osborne’s brilliance and his wretched treatment of his family.

Heilpern noted that Osborne despised his mother and drove one of his wives to suicide, but “the worst thing he ever did” was writing “an abusive, unforgivable letter” to his only child, his daughter Nolan, when she was 16 years old.

The audience audibly gasped as Heilpern went on to explain why he believes that the fact “she survived at all” is “a miracle.” At the age of 12, Nolan was sent to live with Osborne when her mother, who had been his third wife, descended into alcoholism and madness.

Four years after she moved in, Osborne left a letter for the girl to find when she came home from school. In it, he ordered her to remove her things from his home immediately and find a new place to live. He also stated that he was no longer willing to pay for her schooling, calling it “a waste.” 

Osborne’s missive compared the teenager, whose only crime was normal adolescent moodiness, to one of King Lear’s daughters and said “your heart — such as that is — is irretrievably elsewhere, a place without spirit, imagination or honour … banality, safety, mediocrity and meanness of spirit is what you are set on.”

The day Nolan found the letter, she obeyed Osborne’s commands, packed a few things and fled. A classmate’s family took her in; the father and daughter never spoke again. Now a middle-aged woman living in England, on the rare occasions that she refers to the man who tossed her out and abandoned her, she never uses the word “father.”

Among those listening to the program was Vanessa Redgrave, who was once married to Osborne’s great friend, Tony Richardson, and is now on Broadway in The Year of Magical Thinking. It was a particular pleasure to observe the much-honored actress sitting in the second row, smiling and nodding, as she watched her oldest daughter read onstage.

John Osborne by John Heilpern
Originally uploaded by annulla.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Calendar of Programs
Borzoi Books: Q&A With John Heilpern
The Guardian: Stage-Boor Johnny
Philadelphia Inquirer: A Life of Torment, Given and Received
David Hare on John Osborne
The Guardian: John Heilpern on “The Entertainer”
IMDB: Natasha Richardson
Michael Sheen
BBC: Michael Sheen
Broadway.com: Vanessa Redgrave Returns to Broadway
Internet Broadway Database: Look Back in Anger
Arvon Foundation

Mysteries of Manhattan: Nick Beef’s DieKu

April 19, 2007

These images of gravestones were pasted to the wall of a passageway in the West 4th Street subway station. They have a credit line (A DieKu – Nick Beef – NYC) printed in the bottom border but provide no other information about their origin or purpose.  

The gravestones in the upper image follow the classic haiku structure:

Corona Brewer
Noble Golden Beer Skillman
Wetmore Lips Aleman

The names in the lower image create:

Bizzaro Bushman
Texas Manno Wargo Wild
George Izzo Looney

Upper DieKu
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Lower DieKu
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Two DieKu Pasted to the Wall
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Lee Harvey Oswald & the Mysterious Nick Beef
The Story of Nick Beef
Wikipedia: Haiku

Yom HaShoah

April 15, 2007

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah (in Hebrew, yom means remember; shoah is the word for catastrophe).

In most of the United States, the day passes almost without notice. In Israel, however, it is a day devoted to nationwide remembrance and education. During my recent visit to New York’s Jewish Museum, I saw a film depicting one of the most moving parts of the observance — the sounding of the Yom HaShoah siren.

At 10:00 a.m., a two-minute siren blast is heard throughout the country. While the siren screams, everything else comes to an immediate dead stop. Pedestrians stand still as statues, cars pull to the side of the road, workers halt their motions, people dining in cafes and chatting on mobile phones suddenly fall quiet, and the entire nation stands at silent, reverent attention.

Here in New York, a small ceremony for Holocaust survivors was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan (not far from the site of the World Trade Center).

This was a day when the sun never came out. From morning to night, the sky remained flat and gray as cold rain poured onto the city. It was as though the heavens themselves were remembering and mourning the horrors we humans inflict on one another.

Memorial Candles on the Brooklyn Promenade
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Knesset: Yom HaShoah
Yad Vashem
The Ghetto Fighters’ House
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Jewish Virtual Library: Holocaust Memorial Day
Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

Sign on Warren Street

April 14, 2007

Sign fastened to a tree near the corner of Warren and Clinton Streets.

Sign on Warren Street
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Manolo Valdés at Bryant Park

April 11, 2007

I haven’t walked through Bryant Park in a while, so I almost missed the display of monumental bronzes by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés.

If you think there is something vaguely familiar about these sculptures, that may be because Valdés’s work is inspired by the great masters.

The four massive female heads near the fountain (each more than thirteen feet tall) were suggested by faces in Henri Matisse’s paintings. The figures on upper terrace (near the Public Library) are based on Diego Velázquez’ painting, Las Meninas, which depicted the Infanta Margarita and Reina Mariana.

If you want to visit them yourself, you’d better hurry; the exhibition of Valdés sculptures ends on April 15.

Manolo Valdes at Bryant Park
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Yvonne I
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Yvonne II
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Regina I
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Regina II
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Reina Mariana (I)
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Reina Mariana (II)
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Reina Mariana (III)
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Infanta Margarita
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Public Outdoor Art
Press Release: Manolo Valdés At Bryant Park
Bryant Park
Bryant Park Manolo Valdés
Instituto Cervantes

In Your Easter Bonnet

April 8, 2007

Easter Parade
In your Easter bonnet
With all the frills upon it
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade

I’ll be all in clover
And when they look you over
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade

On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue
The photographers will snap us
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure

Oh, I could write a sonnet
About your Easter bonnet
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade

– Irving Berlin, 1933

The Easter Parade is one of New York’s best-known and least understood holiday traditions. There are no floats, no marching bands, no reviewing stand, no check-in table, no starting spot or finish line. It’s not that kind of parade. In fact, there’s not much organization at all.

The event’s title stems from the use of “parade” as a verb meaning “to promenade in a public place, esp. in order to show off.” Every Easter Sunday, Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th Streets (roughly the area between Rockefeller Center and Central Park) is closed to traffic for several hours while the paraders stroll along the pavement.

Anyone who wants to participate is free to join in at any time while the celebration is taking place. Street musicians, face painters, food vendors and others who want attention tend to show up, too.

But the focus of the parade is on ordinary people, specially dressed for the day, meandering up and down the street to greet each other, show off their outfits (particularly their “Easter bonnets”) and proudly pose for innumerable photographers and admirers.

Pink & white ears
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Sticking out her tongue
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Lavender bunny & shirt
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Pink Garden
Originally uploaded by annulla.

I Love Lucy hat
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Many colored feathers
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Hat with blue parrots
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Black leather & teddy bear
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Happy Easter scene hat
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Pink & silver hat
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Originally uploaded by annulla.

Old-fashioned elegance
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Dressed up couple
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Two toppers
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Originally uploaded by annulla.

Originally uploaded by annulla.

Easter Parade film
As Thousands Cheer
Dictionary: Parade

Push for Help

April 6, 2007

Armed only with a heavy, black marker, someone turned this customer assistance intercom box in the Times Square subway station into a helpful, smiling face.

Push for help
Originally uploaded by annulla.

A Reader Lives Here

April 4, 2007

In the center of Greenwich Village, this window-cum-bookshelf at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets caught my eye. Sure, he’s lost half his view, but who needs to look outside, anyway, when you can see the whole world in a book?

A reader lives here
Originally uploaded by annulla.

The Mitzvah Tank in Times Square

April 2, 2007

Parked in front of the Times Square subway station, surrounded by neon and flashing lights, was a large vehicle bearing signs that identified it as a Mitzvah Tank. A what?

Mitzvah Tanks are a fleet of specially-outfitted motor homes used by followers of Menachem M. Schneersohn, commonly known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His adherents, who are called Lubavitchers, use the vehicles as portable educational and outreach centers.

To understand the purpose of the Mitzvah Tanks, it is necessary to know that the Lubavitchers are Orthodox Jews who encourage secular Jews to learn about and practice Judaism.

The Lubavitchers are not like traditional missionaries or evangelists. They aren’t trying to convert anyone who follows a different religion; rather, their goal is to reach those who have drifted away from (or never really learned) the teachings of their own faith.

The name Mitzvah Tank combines two important concepts: a mitzvah is a good deed (or a holy obligation), and the Lubavitchers cheerfully compare their outreach efforts to a military campaign in which motor homes serve as “tanks.” 

Mitzvah Tanks are often seen around town just before major Jewish festivals. Since Passover (Pesach) begins tonight, the tank in Times Square was surrounded by kids offering boxes of hand-made matzoh and information about the holiday.

When I guessed that the kids lived in Brooklyn (location of the Lubavitcher World Headquarters), they were delighted to give me kosher-for-passover snacks and pose for a few photos.

They also urged me to visit their neighborhood, Crown Heights, including a trip to the Jewish Children’s Museum that opened last year. Well, the weather is getting warmer …

In front of the Times Square subway station
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Let’s welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness & kindness
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Step up to the Mitzvah Tank
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Parked on 42nd Street
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Boys with boxes of hand-made matzoh
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Wikipedia: Mitzvah Tank
Gothamist: Mitzvah Tank Invasion
Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters
Beit Chabad: Pesach
Tank Parade

Painting a Garden in Transit

April 1, 2007

“The project will highlight on a mass scale goodwill, hope and triumph on a city, national and international level.”

This space on 32nd Street has been empty ever since the last tenant, a discount store known as Amazing Savings (formerly Odd Job Trading Company) declared bankruptcy. Now, at least for a while, the place is again bustling with activity because Portraits of Hope has come to town.

A non-profit, California-based organization, Portraits of Hope has created unique, high profile, inspirational public art projects around the world. They are now in New York to work on an innovative program called Garden in Transit.

For the next few months, thousands of people from hospitals, schools, and community groups around the city will come here to paint stylized flowers onto plastic panels. Once completed, these removable, weatherproof panels will be affixed to the roofs, hoods and trunks of 12,760 New York City cabs.

From September 1 to December 31, during the centennial celebration of the metered taxi, the decorated cars will serve as a vibrant, colorful Garden in Transit as they drive through the streets of the city.

Grandma helps a painter
Originally uploaded by annulla.

A painter
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Taxi 07

Painting the panels
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Portraits of Hope
Garden in Transit
Hotel Pennsylvania
Amazing Savings
Amazing Savings to reorganize in midst of bankruptcy

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