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

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