C’mon Irene

Here is New York, come hell or high water

Post-Irene skyline view from Sunset Park

So how did I survive New York’s biggest storm in decades? Just fine, thank you. I’m really not one to buy into weather related hype, but I’ll admit as I read the storm reports rolling out on Twitter (yes, this is how I get my up to the minute news these days) I began to get a little jumpy. I spent some time pouring over the map of evacuation zones the Office of Emergency Management put out. I read up on hurricane tips offered by everyone from the mayors office to my electric company. Fortunately, I don’t live in an evacuation zone, but actually on the second highest hill in Brooklyn. My apartment building is a solidly constructed brick building from 1931 that has withstood many a storm. So, I figured, a little rain, a little wind, big deal. In fact, I think the Fucked in Park Slope blog captured my kind of storm prep the best with this entry and chart.

Dancing in the park after the storm

A couple dances in Sunset Park after the storm

Honestly, I think that the NYC government did a pretty decent job of informing everyone. They had a plan, they were organized and they got the word out. I thin they got a little hysterical, sure. I think their move to evacuate all of the Rockaways was a little bit much and that they were making up for their complete lack of planning with this past winter’s big snow storm. But I followed directions, filled up my water bottles and filled the bathtub with water in case we lost electricity and thus water pressure. We never lost electricity. Heck, because my windows are west facing I even kept them open during more of the storm and no rain blew in.

Post storm wind and clouds

Windowblown clouds after the storm

It was really sweet that all of my far-away friends reached out with their support and well-wishes. New York truly is a global city that many hold in their hearts. Since I moved here 10 years ago (to the week!) I’ve experienced September 11th, several huge blizzards, two tornadoes, and an earth quake (which I didn’t feel). I missed the black out of 2003 because I was in Oregon for the summer. I’ve also experienced so many personal trials and tribulations that come with negotiating life in a huge metropolis. New York is a stalwart city and it passes that on to its residents. To live here and not loose your mind I think you need to develop a sense of resolve, calm and willingness to be ready for anything.
Post-Irene Sunset

My review of Gary Indiana’s “Last Seen Entering the Biltmore” on NYFA Current!

Gary Indiana

There was a New York City that I dreamed of when I was growing up. It was a mixture of Greenwich Village during the Beatnik era and the Lower East Side of the 1980’s. It was full of punks, dreamers,  activists and artists. The dangers that might have been lurking there were more aesthetic than real. Poverty and hunger were stylish accouterments. All who were there possessed the ability to transform the urban environment. While obviously this political, arty urban paradise existed only in my imagination some lived it in all its gritty, dangerous, complicated, hungry reality. Patty Smith lucidly captures it in her recent book Just Kids.  Gary Indiana’s new compilation out from MIT Press, Last Seen Entering the Biltmore, collects his poems, prose, short plays and works of art from the late 70’s to the present, chronicling through his artistic production his time in this environment after he made the decision to “not to do anything he didn’t want to do” and to become a writer. Last Seen Entering the Biltmore captures Indiana’s sense of absurd and also his strong artistic integrity. I wrote a full review for NYFA’s online magazine for artists, NYFA Current, and would be honored if you checked it out here.

The Utopia Project Part II: Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

Why do artists need to get away to create? Does creativity really flow better in a rural idyll where one could shut out the outside world if one so chose?  Does modern life really hamper creativity and the ability to produce as an artist? Over 100 years ago Byrdcliffe was founded in Woodstock, New York to test out these ideas as a utopian Arts and Crafts community. The Arts and Crafts movement believed that industrialization and urbanization was compromising peoples ability to live and create and put a great value on the handmade and the skill of the craftsman.

The Byrdcliffe campus certainly seems the embodiment of the Utopia Project. It is transporting: a series of arts and crafts cabins from the turn of the century connected by dirt roads and trails. A stream runs through it and light filters through the birch trees. After I finished working I spent the afternoon hiking up the nearby Overlook mountain to explore the ruins of an old hotel and to look with awe over the Hudson Valley stretching out below me. I used to think that the golden, soft quality of light in Hudson River School paintings was a whole lot of Romantic bullshit.  However, the more time I spend in the Hudson Valley, the more I see that painters like Asher B. Durand and Thomas Cole were actually capturing the quality of light that they observed.

The view from Overlook mountain

Ruins of the Overlook hotel

I cooked dinner in the communal kitchen the residence where I had given a room for the night and spent the evening eating and talking about art, politics and building a creative life with some of the resident artists. I felt privileged to be able to be able to step into the world of actually living as a resident artist for a night. Byrdcliffe is like an artists summer camp where there are few rules besides respecting the quiet and focus of others. As a child I never liked summer camp, but I found myself reluctant to leave Byrdcliffe. I think that’s because it combines the fun, peace and isolation of camp with the focus and autonomy of adulthood.

One of the residency bedrooms

Lunch at the Byrdcliffe Cafe

Just invoking the name “Woodstock” brings up a whole trope of myths in American culture. To an outsider like me I wondered how the region around Woodstock, which is sleepy and rural and mountainous, was host to such an important cultural event back in the 1960’s. Places like Byrdcliffe help provide an answer. Byrdcliffe was founded in 1902 as an experiment in utopian, artistic, arts and crafts living, supported by a wealthy Englishman. It has grown into a nonprofit arts services organization that now provides acts as a touchstone for artists throughout the Woodstock region offering exhibitions, performances, and many professional development opportunities. In addition to those who participate in the residency program, artists can also rent cabins and studios for the summer.

Screen porch artist studio

Artist studios behind the birch trees

As I become more deeply a New Yorker I savor more wholly the opportunities to get out of the city and to immerse myself in rural experiences. Byrdcliffe provides a place for retreat from the pressing concerns of modern, urban life, which is what the Arts and Crafts Movement focused on. There one can concentrate on creativity and artistic exploration in the midst of small town life and natural beauty. In what I think is becoming a resounding theme of my visits to Northeast artist residencies: I can’t wait to go back.

Mt. Guardian trail

Finding France (and Remembering Summer) in West Chelsea

As I write this I am listening to the winter wind howl through the trees of Sunset Park and summer seems very distant. How sad that I have been meaning to write this entry since then! But to follow-up on my entry about my favorite block of the Flatiron District, I wanted to write about one of my favorite walking routes through West Chelsea. Since I am an irrepressible Francophile, the places that caught my eye focus on France, but there’s so much to be had in this district. And the best part is, so much of it is eye-catching you don’t have to buy it to enjoy it!

Wild Grasses on the Highline in August

The Highline Park is a far west, obvious place to start. Inspired partially by the Promenade Plantee in Paris, this revamped elevated rail line has been celebrated since it’s open a few years ago. It’s a wonderful place to go in any season and I love the combination of art, architecture and native plants.  I love running my hand through the grasses and smelling a meadow in Maine instead of New York City. I particularly loved Valerie Hegarty’s painting on display. The interplay between human creation and nature’s will speaks volumes about city life and American art history.

Valerie Hegarty's painting, city, and wild grasses- a perfect juxtaposition.

If you exit the Highline on 20th street you will soon pass the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary, which looks like you have just stepped into the English countryside (okay, I am also a bit of an Anglophile). You will also walk along a historic block of row houses which were partially conceptualized by Clement C. Moore, who is more often known for writing the Night Before Christmas (I have a family connection to this beloved American poem too, because apparently he composed it while visiting my ancestors at Constable Hall in Upstate New York) .

General Theological Seminary is a sanctuary in the city.

Historic West Chelsea.

On the corner of 9th avenue and 20th street is La Cafetiere, a boutique full of French kitchen and homeware goods including glass and earthen ware, table linens, and decor items. The shop is attractively laid out, the staff friendly and the experience so transporting that I bought my mother a linen chicken that was one sale without twice about how ridiculous I would look in the airport check in.

An inviting, open door to La Cafetiere

If you didn’t find exactly the French decor item or linen you were looking for at La Cafeteire my other favorite shop to drop into and browse is Les Toiles du Soleil, located at 19th street between 7th and 8th avenues (closer to 8th) which specializes in Catalan fabrics from the south of France. They sell fabric by the yard as well as items that are sewn in-house.  I got a pair of Espadrilles here on sale at the end of the summer which have been loath to leave my feet since. I also got fabric to make cushion covers for my living room chairs, a beautifully colored iPad case for my mother, and a chic apron for my father. The owners are two of the nicest French people you will ever meet and if you speak French they will engage you in the kind of friendly banter that is usually only encountered in an un-snobby, out-of-the-way Parisian boutique.

Aprons and Esparilles at Les Toiles du Soleil

Fabric by the yard and handmade items at Les Toiles du Soleil.

To end this wander maybe you are in want of some caffeine? The best place in the neighborhood to go for that is Cafe Grumpy, which is not Parisian, not Londoner, but New York. And wonderful with a menu of artisanal, single origin coffee to select from, individually made drinks, organic milk, and sweet staff members (and hello, they have a Park Slope location since 2009! Well, maybe I don’t have to mourn leaving Chelsea after all!).

One of the talented baristas at Cafe Grumpy.

A perfectly made iced Americano. Summer in a glass.

A Block of the Flatiron on a Snowy Day

While I love the Flatiron building for its iconic New Yorkness I’ve never though much about the neighborhood. Working near there for a year now I’ve been meaning to write about my discovery of the square block of West 18th and 19th streets between 5th and 6th avenues. The places on the avenues I could do without, but once you step off of them there’s a wealth of interesting and surprising places to behold. I’ve been meaning to write about this little block for quite sometime, but now that I’ll be leaving my job in Chelsea next week to go back to working in Brooklyn I decided to take a walk on a snowy lunch and enjoy these places one more time.

City Bakery Pretzel Croissants: Worth the Price.

Nearly every Friday morning (and other mornings too) around 11 my stomach starts to rumble and often I give in to the temptation to reward myself with a crispy, yet chewy, salty and delicately buttery Pretzel Croissant from City Bakery. Home to unique, delicious, heavy on the butter and also on the wallet backed goods, City Bakery is famous, but somehow I had never really paid attention to it until I started working in the area. They are known for their hot chocolate, but I will warn you: it’s a meal in itself. Choose wisely: pretzel croissant OR hot chocolate. And I just got word today they have started to make chocolate croissants again after four years of not. It looks like I might be leaving the neighborhood just in time!

Paper Presentation is located just a few steps closer to 6th avenue from City Bakery. It runs the length of the block between 18th and 19th streets, so it’s also great to wander through and avoid elbowing through the crowds on 5th or 6th avenues. All kinds of great things: stickers, paper plates, cards, envelopes, handmade folders and portfolios, supplies for crafting and scrapbooking… I could look in here all day.

Note card dispaly at Paper Presentation

Seals at Paper Presentation

If you’ve crossed through Paper Presentation to West 19th street you can easily find my two favorite stores, almost facing each other. On the south side of the street is a store on the second floor with big, wide windows: Idlewild Books. I was delighted to discover this cozy, welcoming bookstore devoted to travel books, foreign books in translation, and books in French, Spanish and Italian. They also offer language classes and will order you any books they don’t carry (and possibly offer you a discount on it!). I would go here and browse the shelves when I was feeling particularly homesick for Paris. Granted, you might pay a bit of a mark up for a Livre de Poche, but that price is worth it for a little bit of escapism.

Idlewild Books, where I buy more books in French than I can ever possibly read.

Speaking of escapism of another kind, on the north side of West 19th street is Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit. They have an excellent selection of wines organized by region, cooking taste, price and other themes. The staff will never look down their nose at you. The best part is that even if you choose the lowliest $9 bottle of red wine they cheerfully print out tasting notes for you. I feel like I enjoy everything I buy there more because it’s just such a pleasant experience!

Even Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit's facade is inviting

There’s many other delights tucked into these streets, most notably the Japanese answer to Ikea, Muji, and the chidren’s book emporium Books of Wonder and the Cupcake Cafe, but I will leave you to discover them. However, if Paper Presentation didn’t provide what you were looking for there is also A.I. Friedman for office supplies, framing, art supplies, and office furniture.

Pantone color storage boxes at A.I. Friedman

A collection of stylish desk lamps

Finally, though it takes you a little off the block, for that perfect accessory you are looking for, cross 6th avenue, walk down to 17th street and pop into Pippin Vintage Jewelry. They also have a tiny house behind their store full of vintage home goods. You will feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale cottage in the middle of Chelsea.

Pippin Vintage is tempting and very reasonably priced!

And what to wear for a walk around the block in the snow? A girl detective outfit, legwarmers and high heel boots, of course.

Snowy day girl detective

Fall in Manhattan’s Squares

Usually I try to get out of town in the fall to see the leaves changing and the seasons passing. While I did take a brief detour to Maine earlier this fall I sadly have been prevented from taking any serious trip to upstate New York or Long Island due to academic obligations. I even had to miss the annual spooky caravan that Andi organizes!

However, some solace has come through my farm share, which keeps my regularly updated on what produce is in season that week, and the goings-on in the two squares I walk through between work and school. I was treated to some autumnal delights at the epically huge Union Square Greenmarket and at Madison Square Park (which I think is an unsung hero of a beautiful, well funded, well-used park!).


Orange pumpkins, yellow tree in Union Square

Selling fall leaves for $8 a bunch would surly give old time Mainers another reason to think the city life is ridiculous

Bold fall colors at the Greenmarket

I just about fell in love when I saw that huge pile of radishes! Meanwhile, in Madison Square Park…

Jim Campbell's "Scattered Light" creates a flutter of light at twilight

...and a very determined squirrel finds a goldmine in a pumpkin placed high in a dead tree

The squirrel caused quite a stir and was much photographed. It’s moments like these that remind me why I love New York.

Art Handling Olympics

Gold Medal Ceremony
Originally uploaded by killerfemme

I admit it, I didn’t watch the winter olympics. However hard I was rooting for Canada to win a gold in hockey, my lack of TV kept me from the games. But one olympics I was sure not to miss was the first, and hopefully not the last, Art Handling Olympics held today at Ramiken Crucible in Manhattan Chinatown. A bunch of teams of art handlers from institutions, companies and galleries competed in activities like packing, delivering, hanging, the “static hold” (holding really heavy art while a “curator” with a fake German accent barked at them), and “the eliminator,” which included uncrating, assembling, and recrateing a “work of art.”
Before I started working in museums I didn’t know what an art handler was, but quickly realized they are the backbone of the arts world, especially here in NYC. Very few run of the mill people really think about how art makes in from the studio to the gallery or auction house to the museum to the wall, but this is what these guys and ladies deal with everyday. Trucks. Heavy stuff. Impatient dealers, gallerists, curators, and registrars.
Being there felt a little bit like being at Duke Riley’s piece “Those about to Die, we salute you” that took place at the Queens Museum this past summer. It was an art world event. However, it was also really fun to get together and make fun of ourselves in the art world a little bit and make an invisible community a little more visible. Maybe this is what it felt like when bike messengers started having races. Maybe art handling is going to become the next hip thing? Probably not, because I can’t see how it’s marketable in the way bikes are, but I was surprised at how many media reps were at the event, so it definitely sparked some curiosity. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Magnetic Fields and Laura Barrett at Town Hall

I am so happy to report that Venus Zine is back in business, which means that I will now be reviewing shows and writing about music, art and culture for them more regularly. My first review after a long hiatus was the Magnetic Fields’ performance at Town Hall on March 10th. It was a very nice and stately show and had the feeling of a reunion of friends who are all in someway connected to the Magnetic Fields. You can read the full review here.