Sunday, December 28, 2014

432 Park Avenue: Harry Macklowe flips off New York City

432 Park Avenue (center in the photo above) claims the title of tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, and second tallest building (after the new One World Trade Center) in New York City, but if measured by roof height the tallest. It's described by its architect, Rafael Viñoly, as designed around "the purest geometric form: the square." Not only is the building's horizontal cross section a square, but all the windows are squares.  It dominates the midtown skyline with the grace of a colossal headless Pez dispenser, or upraised middle finger (the photo above was taken from Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park). Aaron Betsky admires its "relentlessness"; I demur. Betsky also celebrates how 432 Park "represents the transformation of this and every other city into a place for the wealthy to live and play" as if driving out struggling artists and other relatively impecunious but creative people, and the inexpensive infrastructure that supports them, constitutes progress.

With bad luck, we may be subjected to more Viñoly designs, like 125 Greenwich Street, all of which will end up being pieds a terre for billionaires, with perhaps a few lower floor, smaller apartments going to mere multi-millionaires.

Viñoly discusses his design philosophy in this video. He plays piano well.

The developers of 432 Park are CIM Group and Macklowe Properties. Harry Macklowe is a developer whose company was once fined two million dollars for reckless endangerment resulting from the rapid night-time demolition of two buildings. Macklowe compares 432 Park to the Mona Lisa.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lionel Train layout, New York City Transit Museum Annex, Grand Central Terminal 2014

Every year from late November to early January there's an elaborate Lionel Train layout set up in the gallery space of the New York City Transit Museum annex at Grand Central Station. For the past several years I've been making videos of the layout and posting them here. Below is this year's video:

The basic structure remains the same: at the end nearest the gallery entrance there's a model of Grand Central, with tracks under it and the Met Life building looming over it. Beyond that is the Empire State Building along with other midtown skyscrapers, then a stretch of lower-rise Manhattan (Chelsea and the Village?), a bit of suburbia with a gas station, and at the far end a mountain (Hudson Highlands or Catskills) with a tunnel. Details and rolling stock change from year to year, although there's always a New York Central passenger train and a New York City subway train, with platform.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Adeste Fideles ("O Come All Ye Faithful"), by Bing Crosby

I first heard Adeste Fideles on my parents' phonograph, sung by Bing Crosby on the album the cover of which is pictured above. I was six or seven at the time. It was my first exposure to Latin, which my father said was a "dead language" (he was a Methodist), but Bing made it sound very much alive.

The video clip above has Bing's Adeste Fideles as the audio track, accompanied by a slide show that starts with the famous "Earthrise" photos taken by one of the Apollo 8 astronauts and is followed by a series of artworks depicting the infancy and life of Jesus. Thanks to manfreadstraw for creating the clip.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

"The Plunge": Coney Island Brewing's winter seasonal.

The Coney Island Brewing Company's winter seasonal offering is called "The Plunge", after the Polar Bear Club's winter swims at Coney Island. With a name like that it should be, well, bracing.

The label says "Belgian-Style Ale with Ginger, Orange Peel and Fennel Seed." As I've mentioned before, I'm leery of brews with additives. To riff on The Lovin' Spoonful, "All I want is malt, yeast, water, and hops just to set my soul on fire." Still, despite initial strong doubts, I liked Coney's summer brew, Tunnel of Love Watermelon Wheat. I found their autumn offering, Freaktoberfest, less pleasing. Pumpkin is not one of my favorite flavors, although the espresso beans added an interesting note.

So, here are my notes on "The Plunge", which I had with a spicy take out from Curry Heights:

Color: vivid amber (see photo).

Head: ample, but not over-the-top (ditto).

Aroma: fruit and spices, hint of licorice (thanks to the fennel).

Taste: a rich mix of fruit, spice, malt, and a muted hop finish, with a touch of licorice. As the meal progressed and the ale warmed in the glass, the fennel accent became more pronounced, and malt carried through to the finish.

The Plunge went well with the spicy curry, its own spiciness complementing rather than amplifying or fighting that of the food. All in all, a pleasant drink, and one I'll enjoy again. Would I compare it to a swim in frigid water? To me, it was more of a sitting in front of a fire on a winter's night kind of beverage. At 6.9 percent ABV, it will warm you up. Technical details are here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Give vs. gift: is the battle lost?

When I saw this sign on Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan, I was mightily discouraged. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I'm a bit of a usage stickler; not too much of one, I hope, but still determined to hold the barricades on some (and I'll fight that one to the death). Not too long ago, I posted this, decrying the use of the noun "gift" as a substitute for the verb "give." My rationale was, this does nothing to enrich the language, since there's already a perfectly good word for it, and it doesn't simplify things, as "I gifted" is actually longer than "I gave." Also, "gifted" as the past tense of "to gift" could be confused with "gifted" as an adjective meaning what all the children in Lake Wobegon are.

Since then, in part because of a discussion on Facebook, I've come to realize that "to gift" is a back formation of a novel verb, first reported from 1995, to re-gift, or sometimes un-hyphenated "regift." This means "to give (a previously received gift) to someone else." Here I'll confess, "re-gift" has an ironic zing that "re-give" lacks. I can see how this led to the original giving of the gift becoming "gifting." Does this bother me? Yeah, sorta. Still, substituting "gift" for "give" to describe the giving of a gift doesn't seem that big a deal. The confusion of the past tense "gifted" with the adjective seems curable by context.
It seems my neighborhood Kiehl's store is treading the margin. The sign leads me to believe they are using "gifting" here to mean "gift-wrapping." That could actually be a useful usage. "May I gift that for you?" has an advantage of economy over "May I gift-wrap...?"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cavalleria Rusticana in Brooklyn Heights

My wife and I attended Saturday evening's performance of Pietro Mascagni's one act opera Cavalleria Rusticana at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, performed by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn (which does not shy from its acronym), the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn, and a stellar group of vocal soloists. Set in a small Sicilian town on Easter Sunday, Cavalleria Rusticana ("Rustic Chivalry") is a tragic tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, and death that plays out against a background of religious devotion and festivity.

The action begins when Santuzza (Sarah Hetzel; photo above by Arielle Doneson) finds her lover Turiddu (Alex Richardson) in a passionate embrace with Lola (Joan Peitscher). Santuzza first seeks solace with Turiddu's mother, Lucia (Kirsten Sollek), then confronts Turiddu and Lola, then lets Lola's husband, Alfio (Richard Lippold), know he's been cuckolded; he then vows revenge. After the Easter mass ends, Turiddu encourages the townspeople to celebrate while he and Lola share what seems to be the Dogpatch ham of wine bottles. The jollity ends when Turridu is confronted by Alfio, who challenges him to a duel, leading to the fatal conclusion.

Hetzel's rich mezzo voice gives full expression to Santuzza's despair, jealousy, and rage. Richardson's Turiddu, in blazer and open collared shirt, is a sexy good old boy; his ringing tenor runs the gamut from amorous to celebratory to furious. Peitscher, another mezzo, plays Lola as a shameless hussy in a bright flowered dress, dispensing seduction and scorn. Lippold's Alfio, in suit and tie, is a smug yuppie who enters bragging, in his confident baritone, about his good job and having scored a trophy wife on his first pass. Sollek's Lucia is understated, her alto registering emotion in muted but compelling tones. The orchestra, under the sure direction of Eli Spindel, was flawless, as was the choir, directed by Jason Asbury. Overall direction of this superb performance was by Sam Helfrich.

Re-posted from Brooklyn Heights Blog.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tom Rush in concert at First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, presented by First Acoustics.

Tom Rush is a singer whose art I've held especially dear. I first heard him in the spring of 1968, on the back half of my first year at Harvard Law, when I discovered WBCN, Boston's first FM rock station. It was, for me, a time of emotional turmoil. I was nearing the end of my first New England winter--I'd been living in Florida since age eight--while dealing with academic demands and with having fallen into a hopeless infatuation with a woman in my class. Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" is about autumn fading into winter, and loss of love. I heard Tom's cover of it as winter was beginning to yield to spring, and as I yearned for a love that never was to be. Still, it fit my mood perfectly. This past Saturday, I heard Tom live in concert for the second time--the first was at Greenwich Village's late venue the Bottom Line in 1975--at the First Unitarian Church a few blocks from where I live, in a concert presented by First Acoustics. As if answering my unspoken request, he opened with "Urge for Going":

Tom credits the song's popularity to WBZ. I believe WBCN was their FM radio affiliate.

Another of my favorites Tom sang at the concert was "No Regrets," which he followed with the haunting instrumental "Rockport Sunday." He told how he wrote "No Regrets" and sang it for the first time while visiting Judy Collins, who served tea. When he finished the song, Judy's response was simply to pour another cup. Thus discouraged, Tom didn't release the song for several years. It became his first hit, and has been covered by, among others, the Walker Brothers and U2. Tom said he now realizes Ms. Collins' lack of response was because "she was overcome by emotion."

In the clip above, Tom sings and plays "No Regrets" and "Rockport Sunday" at Club Passim, a nonprofit venue for musical performances and center for the preservation and encouragement of folk music, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge is where Tom got his start as a folk singer in his days as a Harvard student and after, in venues like Passim's predecessor, Club 47.

Tom also did a song I hadn't yet heard, "Remember Song," from his latest album, What I Know.  The lyrics made me think of an old joke: a minister says to an elderly parishioner, "Do you ever think of the Hereafter?" The parishioner says, "Sure. I often walk into a room and think, 'What am I here after?'" It happens to me way too many times these days. I also thought of going to a Kingston Trio concert some twenty or so years ago, where Bob Shane, his slate gray pony tail hanging to his waist, looked out at us and said, "God, you all look old."

I was pleasantly surprised by another song Tom did, which is also on What I Know (I hadn't heard the album yet, but it's now on my Christmas list). He covered one of my favorite R&B songs, "Drift Away," originally done by Dobie Gray. Does it cut Dobie's original? No. Still, it has a compelling, older guy perspective.

Tom ended his regular set with another of my old favorites, his song about growing up in New Hampshire, "Merrimack County." This is prefaced, as most of Tom's songs are, by a longish but very funny story.

Called back for an encore, Tom finished with a rousing medley of "Who Do You Love?" and "Hey, Bo Diddley." He did every song I had hoped to hear, and charmed my wife, who had been dubious. When I worried about getting there early to get good seats, she said, "It's not like we're going to a Beatles concert." Afterward, she said, "He's from my neck of the woods."

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sure 'n' begorrah, I'm more Irish than anything!

And maybe a bit Spanish, too. Not at all what I was expecting when, at my wife's urging, I sent a sample of my saliva to the lab at so they could analyze my DNA and tell me from whence my ancestors came. I was sure I knew. I believed all of my ancestors on my father's side were of English descent,* with the exception of one great grandmother, who had the Scottish name Napier.** She was born in Tennessee, which makes me think she was Ulster Scots, or "Scotch Irish," a descendant of the Protestant Scots who were "planted" in Ireland during the reign of James I in an effort to subdue the Catholic Irish, and many of whom later emigrated to America where they settled in Appalachia and the lands to the west.***

My mother's maiden name was Lane. Her father showed me what purported to be a family crest. Above the shield, topped, as I recall, with a knight's helmet, was the name "O'Leign." So, it seemed, the Lanes were Irish. My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Miles, which I assumed to be English, but which I now know to be of Norman French origin, and to be known in both England and Ireland. Other ancestral names on my mother's side are Mott, which could be English or German, Woods, and Rush, both of which seemed quite English.****

What I expected my DNA to show was that I was perhaps sixty percent or so English, maybe twenty five percent Irish (with some Scandinavian mixed in, thanks to the Vikings), and the rest a mixture of Scottish, German, and maybe a few surprises from some generations back (French? Native American?).

What I got as the sources of my genome was: Ireland, 34%; Scandinavia, 27%; Europe West (basically France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Low Countries), 14%; Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), 14%; Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), 6%. The remaining five percent is divided among traces of Italy or Greece; Finland or Northeast Russia; Poland or Ukraine; and a less than one percent dab of North Africa, which I suspect came en suite with the Iberian Peninsula connection.

I was surprised that Ireland and Scandinavia together accounted for over sixty percent of my genome, and that Great Britain, which for comprises England, Scotland, and Wales, contributes only six percent. I now know this was because of my mistaken belief about the origin of the name Scales (see footnote * below), which turns out to be Scandinavian, arriving in England by way of Ireland, where some Irish may have gotten mixed with it. It's also possible that my Miles ancestors on my mother's side were of Irish origin (see footnote **** below).

The Iberian connection just about floored me, as I know of no Spanish or Portuguese ancestors on either parental side. One suggestion from a co-worker is that some of my Irish forebears may have married survivors of the wrecks of Spanish Armada ships on the Irish coast. This often expressed theory about the origin of the dark haired and eyed "Black Irish" is, it is said, supported by very little evidence. My wife, whose late father could be described as "Black Irish," has no trace of Iberian in her DNA. Perhaps in her ongoing genealogical research, which includes my family as well as hers, she'll find where there's--to borrow a book title from John Lennon--A Spaniard in the Works.


* When we were in England, from 1951 to '54, my dad got an historical map of Hertfordshire, the county where we lived. Not too far a drive from our house (well, nothing in Herts is too far a drive), according to the map, there was a dotted outline labeled "Scales Castle." We got into our Austin A40 and went there, finding nothing but a pasture. I now know that the castle belonged to the holders of the de Scales barony, descendants of a Norman nobleman who arrived in England with William the Conqueror. I also know that I am almost certainly not descended from the noble de Scales family (the barony was terminated during the reign of Richard III, as the family were at the time on the losing side of the Wars of the Roses, although there have been attempts to revive it).

During my first year of law school (1967-68), while on a weekend afternoon stroll, I went into the Widener Library, found the reference section, and in it the Century Cyclopedia of English Names. In the book I found "Scales" followed by the notation "A-S", which I took to mean Anglo-Saxon. It then said the name meant "dweller in the hut," a "scale" being a crude lean-to hut or shelter. A more recent source repeats that story of the name's meaning, but gives its origin as not Anglo-Saxon, but Scandinavian. Many Vikings settled in North-West England during the tenth and eleventh centuries after being expelled from Ireland by Cearbhall and Brian Boru. It's believed that these Viking immigrants from Ireland are the forebears of most, if not all, of the people named Scales in England.

** I've seen two versions of how the French word napier became a Scottish surname. The one I don't believe, because it is the more romantic, is that the first to bear the name so distinguished himself in battle that the King said, "Tha hast nae peer [no equal]."  The one I believe is that the family were linen keepers, perhaps for the royal family, and took the French word for such as their name. Napier can also be an English name, but my father believed that his grandmother was somehow related to John Napier (1550-1617), the Scottish philosopher and mathematician who discovered the principle of logarithms and invented the first crude slide rule (a device still used by my generation during our school years, but now supplanted by the electronic calculator), called "Napier's bones."

*** The term "Hillbilly" was given to Scotch-Irish settlers in Appalachia because of the popularity among them of the name William, a popularity stemming, no doubt, from the victory of William of Orange's army over the Catholic rebels at the Battle of the Boyne. King William is also the source of the term "Orangemen" for Northern Irish Protestants.

**** I've now learned that Woods can be either English or Scottish. Rush is commonly English, but is found in Ireland as a derivative of several Gaelic names, or may be an Anglicization of a German name. It's an oral tradition in my mother's family that we're descended, through my great grandmother Ellen Susan Rush Miles and her mother, Susan Woods Rush, from Benjamin Rush, physician of the Continental Army and signer of the Declaration of Independence. This was reported as fact in my great grandmother's obituary in the Tyrone Daily Herald. Unfortuntely, because of a lack of information available about Susan Rush, it's proved so far difficult to trace the lineage.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tampa's streetcars.

On my way to the American Victory Museum I saw one of Tampa's streetcars (photo above). I was going on foot from the Riverwalk across town to where American Victory is docked, on a hot, humid August afternoon. When I passed one of the streetcar stops on Channelside Drive, not far from American Victory, I saw a map showing that the route, which used to run only between the Convention Center and Ybor City, had since been extended to the southern edge of downtown, a few blocks from where my car was parked. The map below shows the streetcar route in red.
After touring the ship, I headed for the streetcar stop I had passed earlier and, after a few minutes' wait, boarded a car headed for downtown.
This is the view looking forward, through the motorman's cab. The car was air conditioned and the seat comfortable.
This is the view looking to the rear. There were few passengers on this run, in the early afternoon on a weekday. The system began operation in October of 2002, and quickly exceeded ridership expectations. Nevertheless, in 2006 the possibility was raised of the local transit agency, HART, not renewing its contract to operate the system. The reason given was that few local people, as opposed to tourists, used it. Extension of the system to downtown evidently has relieved this problem.
Here's a view of the streetcar taken just after I got off in downtown. Most of the system's cars are replicas of classic Birney streetcars that were used in Tampa from 1920 to 1946. The  replicas are made by Gomaco Trolley Company of Ida Grove, Iowa. The Tampa fleet now includes a restored Birney that was used on the city's old system, as well as a replica of an open air "breezer" car.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

iPod log: Brooklyn Heights; Brooklyn Bridge Park; Fulton Ferry; DUMBO; Cadman Plaza Park

Haven't done one of these since January. The idea is: I take a walk, usually around my neighborhood, Brooklyn Heights, as well as through Brooklyn Bridge Park and adjoining areas, but sometimes across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. On my walk, I have my iPod on, set in the "shuffle" mode so that it plays music randomly. At or near the start of each piece of music, I take a photo. The photos are therefore also random, though I do try to shoot whatever looks best or most interesting at the time. What follows is the log of a walk I took on September 16. After each photo I tell what was playing when I took it, giving a link to a site (usually a YouTube clip) where you can listen to it. Where necessary, I also give some explanation of what's in the photo.
The Spinners' "One of a Kind Love Affair" is an excellent example of the Gamble & Huff smooth and danceable Philly soul style from the 1970s. Hear it here.

2. Gin Blossoms, "Miss Disarray." One of many songs Eliot Wagner has turned me on to. Hear it here.

3. Great Speckled Bird, "Trucker's Cafe." In 1969 the Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia, who had earlier recorded an album, Nashville, with backing by Nashville studio musicians, decided to go the country rock whole hog, and formed a band, into which they briefly merged their identity, named for a classic country song. The band recorded one, eponymous, album, which I love, and which was Todd Rundgren's maiden production. "Trucker's Cafe" features the voice of Sylvia Fricker Tyson, backed by Buddy Cage on pedal steel, Amos Garrett on guitar, and N.D. Smart on drums. Hear it here.

Photo: This is a view down the "charming cloister like walkway" (Francis Morrone, An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn) that leads from Hicks Street to the entrance to the Grace Church Parish House (1931), which also houses the Grace Church School (pre-K and K; hence  the carriages on the walkway). On the right of the photo is the south wall of Grace Church, completed in 1848 and designed by Richard Upjohn, one of the pre-eminent American church architects of the nineteenth century.

4. Sue Foley, "Careless Love." More Canadian content, from another woman singer who knows how to do the blues. Here she does a traditional song of obscure origins, but which was in the repertoire of Buddy Bolden perhaps a century ago or more. Live performance video here.

Photo: This is a portion of "The Fence", which extends most of the length of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and showcases the work of photographers who will be featured in Photoville, an annual event at the Park.

5. Rod Stewart, "Tomorrow is Such a Long Time." Rod covers a Dylan song on Every Picture Tells a Story, one of the best rock albums ever. Hear it here.

Photo: In the foreground, the harbor tanker Patrick Sky (not named for the folk singer) leaves Buttermilk Channel heading into the East River, while a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris collection vessel (probably Driftmaster) goes in the opposite direction.

6. Jimmy Crawford with Frank Motley's Crew, "That Ain't Right."  1954 R&B originally recorded by Savoy Records, Newark's pioneer indie label; the linked clip shows the Gem label, which evidently later acquired rights to it. "Don't nobody stay out and drink bad green wine all night." Hear it here. I think of this as the metaphorical flip side of Dolly Cooper's 1953 sparkler "I Wanna Know", from the Savoy archives.

Photo: The former U.S. Navy helicopter training carrier Baylander and the "Fredonia" type fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, which belongs to the South Street Seaport Museum and is used for educational purposes in conjunction with the New York Harbor School, are moored beside Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 5.

7. John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, "Steppin' Out." A lively blues instrumental, written by James Bracken and originally recorded by Memphis Slim, featuring a young Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Hear it here.

8. Johnny Cash, "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart." A heart-rending ballad of lost love, from the legendary Live at Folsom Prison album. Hear it here.

Photo: The sculpture is part of Dahn Vo's We the People, in which the sculptor has modeled, in full scale, fragments of the Statue of Liberty, and placed them in locations around the world, including Brooklyn Bridge Park.

9. The Light Crust Doughboys, "Knocky, Knocky." John "Knocky" Parker was a professor in the English department at the University of South Florida when I was a student there in the mid 1960s. He would sometimes give jazz piano performances, and I heard that he had a career as a musician before becoming an academic. I later learned, by dint of acquiring the album OKeh Western Swing, which included "Knocky, Knocky", that he had been a member of the Light Crust Doughboys. You can hear it here. You can also hear Professor Parker playing Scott Joplin rags here.

10. The Rolling Stones, "Sweet Virginia." "Got to scrape that shit right off your shoe." Live performance video here.

11. Neil Young, "Ohio." The version I have on my iPod is his solo acoustical performance, at Massey Hall, Toronto in 1971 of this gut-wrenching song about the unjustified killings of four Kent State University students in May of 1970. This song was originally recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and included in their album 4 Way Street. There is no video of the Massey Hall performance, which I think unparalelled for its emotional immediacy, but I found this clip of another performance, with a montage of scenes from the Kent State killings.

12. John Stewart, "Friend of Jesus." This isn't the John Stewart of The Daily Show, of whom I'm a fan, but the singer I loved. "Friend of Jesus" was originally on his album Willard, but I have it as a bonus cut from the CD version of California Bloodlines. You can hear it here.

13. J.S. Bach, Brandenberg Concerto No. 2, 1st Movement, Allegro; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner, Cond.  One of the liveliest things Big Daddy Bach wrote. There's no video of the Academy performing this piece, but there's a clip here of an uncredited orchestra (commenter "Chuck Norris" suggests the conductor may be Karl Fischer) playing the piece, accompanied by a "graphical score" made by Stephen Malinowski, which I found fun to watch. It shows you what the various instruments are doing.

14. Saïan Supa Crew, "La Patte." What better to follow German baroque than French hip-hop (with a segment in English by guest rapper and techno-geek Will.I.Am)? Video here.

15. The Chieftains, "Jabadaw." My iPod decides to jump the English Channel with this version of a dance tune from Cornwall by Ireland's Chieftains, taken from their album Celtic Wedding. You can hear it here.
16. The Kingston Trio, "Low Bridge." Raise your hand if you didn't sing this song in elementary school music class. You probably knew it as "The Erie Canal," but on the album The Kingston Trio No. 16 it got the title "Low Bridge." The Trio's version is probably a bit more uptempo than the one you knew, and has some extra lyrics. Hear it here.

17.  Jo-El Sonnier, "Jambalaya." Hank Williams made this song a hit. Here it's done in the original Cajun French. Hear it here.

18. Bonnie Raitt, "Love Has No Pride." The "definitive version" (Dave Marsh) of this doleful but lovely Eric Kaz/Libby Titus song. Hear it here.

19. James Cotton, "No Cuttin' Loose." Cotton, a blues musician with an eclectic backgrouund, shows his talents on harmonica and as a singer on this piece. Hear it here.

20. Joan Baez, "Farewell Angelina."  This song takes me back to my third year of law school, and to my friend Tom's dorm room, were he was host to a weekly TGIF. Several of us would gather there to drink cheap Scotch, get high, and listen to tapes on Tom's Akai reel-to-reel. One of these was the Joan Baez album of which this is the title song. Hear it here.

Photo: What we see from the back is the Henry Ward Beecher Monument (1891), by John Quincy Adams Ward. Beecher was the first minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, and is remembered principally for his fierce dedication to the cause of abolishing slavery. Flanking the pedestal of the monument are images of slave children, their arms stretched upward in their struggle for freedom.

21. Robert Johnson, "Sweet Home Chicago." Robert Johnson was a gifted singer and guitarist who is credited with having established the style that became known as Delta blues. There's a clip here where you can hear "Sweet Home Chicago," accompanied by vintage film of life in the City of Broad Shoulders.

Photo: Late summer bounty at the Borough Hall Greenmarket.

22. Warren Zevon, "Mohammed's Radio." "Don't it make you want to rock and roll all night long, Mohammed's radio?" Hear it here.

22. Marlene Dietrich, "Schlittenfahrt." Ever wonder what "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma sounds like in German? The Blue Angel will let you know, if you dare.

Photo: This is the south facade of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church. It was designed by Minard LaFever, another pre-eminent nineteenth century American church architect, and completed in 1847. It has the first complete set of figural stained glass windows to have been made in North America.

24. Ian & Sylvia, "Maude's Blues." My walk ends with another example of Sylvia's talent for singing the blues. Hear it here.

Photo: These are the facades of two adjoining mid-1880s apartment buildings on Montague Street, the Berkeley at left and its near twin, the Grosvenor at right. Both were designed in a typically Victorian style by the English born architects the Parfitt Brothers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

So, baseball fans, it's down to this...

...the Giants against the Royals in the World Series. Royals vs. Giants; it has an almost legendary sound to it. It's not the Series I was hoping for; still, there are reasons for me to watch it. The two teams have never met in a World Series before. The Royals, an expansion team from 1969, have been in two Series: 1980, when they lost to the Phillies four games to two; and 1985, when they beat the Cardinals in an all-Missouri Series four games to three.
The Giants, by contrast, have been around since 1887 (they were originally the New York Gothams), have been in nineteen World Series, and won seven championships, most recently in 2010 and 2012. As the New York Giants, they won the first World Series I watched, in 1954, against the Cleveland Indians. My parents and I had just returned from three years in England, and I knew nothing of baseball at the time.
I have a vague memory of "The Catch" by Willie Mays (see clip above) that was instrumental in the Giants' winning the championship; their last as a New York team--they moved to San Francisco in 1958.

The Giants' New York heritage, and their being in the same league as my Mets--the one that plays real baseball, without the designated hitter--makes me favor them. Still, there are lots of reasons to like the Royals. For me, the best of these is their playing the underdog, team of destiny role. So, whoever wins, I won't be badly disappointed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Tampa Bay Hotel, H.B. Plant, and Kate Jackson

If you aren't familiar with Tampa, you might think this photo was taken somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa. It's the main building of the University of Tampa, situated near the west bank of the Hillsborough River, across from downtown. I took the photo from The Tampa Riverwalk, which follows the river's east bank. The building was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel, designed by the architect J.A. Wood and completed in 1891 for the railroad and steamship magnate Henry B. Plant, who had completed a railroad connecting Tampa to points north and established Port Tampa as a terminal for steamships sailing to Havana, Jamaica, New Orleans, and other destinations. In 1898 the hotel became the headquarters for the U.S. military campaign to liberate Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt stayed there before embarking with his Rough Riders at Port Tampa for their voyage to Cuba. The building is now a National Historic Landmark.

Going along the Riverwalk, I found this bust of Plant, with his hotel in the background. Plant was responsible for making Tampa, which before the 1890s was a small town, into a major transportation hub and tourist destination. He died in 1899, and his heirs sold the hotel and surrounding grounds to the City of Tampa in 1905. The hotel continued to operate until the depths of the Great Depression, when the City leased it to the University for 100 years, at an annual rental of one dollar. It now contains classrooms and administrative offices, and a portion of it houses the Henry B. Plant Museum.

A little past the bust of Plant, I came to another, this of a woman. The plaque beneath read:
Kate Victoria Jackson
An environmentalist before that word was coined, Kate Jackson made many contributions to Tampa. At a time when women could not vote, she led the lobbying for essential public services. 
Parks and playgrounds were her biggest achievement, and the Tampa Civic Association, which she founded in 1910, was a major factor in creating the city's first water and sewage system. This sanitation was key to preventing yellow fever epidemics that had plagued the area.
She was born in Tampa to Irish immigrants who had arrived in 1847. Because Tampa had no good schools at the time, she was educated in a Key West Catholic institution; this led her to recruit the nuns who built the Academy of the Holy Names in the 1870's. An astute businesswoman, she also was a generous philanthropist. Jackson's influence was statewide, especially via the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which was the first organization to preserve the Florida Everglades.
Although I spent my youth in Tampa, I had never heard of Kate Jackson. Her contributions to the city's history, though, rivaled those of H.B. Plant.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

An all-avian Series? It could be in the cards...

...if the Cards keep winning--they're one up on the Dodgers in their NLDS as I write this, with game two tonight--and the Orioles, who are two games up on the Tigers in their ALDS, do the same.
If this comes to pass--and I hope I haven't jinxed both teams by suggesting the possibility--I'll be OK with whichever team wins, though I'll give a slight rooting edge to the O's, despite their being in the Phony Baseball League, since they haven't won a Series since 1983, a ring-dearth even longer than that of the Mets. I also have a soft spot for the O's since they were victors in the first Major League regular season game I attended, in the summer of 1970, when a two run homer off the bat of Boog Powell iced the game against the Yanks.

I've often said, though, that if I had to pick a baseball team on the aesthetics of their play and the competency of their organization I'd pick the Cardinals. Like my Mets, they're in the league that plays real baseball, without the designated hitter. They have a great tradition going back to the "Gas House Gang" of the 1930s, whose spirit seems to have survived through many generations of players. One interesting aspect of a Cards/O's Series is that it would match up two former crosstown rivals. Until 1954, the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.

Other interesting Series match-ups are also possible. We could have a rematch of the 1985 all-Missouri Series, won by the Royals over the Cards, or the 2002 all-California Series, in which the Angels beat the Giants. Should Detroit come back from their 0-2 deficit and progress from there, we might even have an avian/feline Series, pitting the Cardinals against the Tigers.

Big dinos! Spinosaurus and Dreadnaughtus.

When I first saw an image of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus sometime way back when I was a kid crazy about dinosaurs--the image had no caption indicating the species--I thought it was someone's silly conflation of a Jurassic or Cretaceous theropod with a Permian era sail-backed synapsid like Dimetrodon.  I later learned that it was a real dinosaur, that its fossils had been found in Egypt, but that the only known fossil remains had been destroyed in a bombing raid on Munich during World War II.

Thanks to a nomad in Morocco, who found fossil bones that came to the attention of paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim, a post-doc at the University of Chicago, paleontologists there were able to create a reconstruction of Spinosaurus that strongly indicates that, like a present day crocodile (or duck), it had a semi-aquatic life. It was larger than any other known carnivorous dinosaur, including Giganotosaurus. Indeed, it was likely piscivorous, dining on the large fish that swam in the shallow waters of the coastal region that was North Africa in the Cretaceous.

My last post on dinos was about the smallest dinosaur yet discovered, Ashdown maniraptora. Now there's a new biggest, discovered in Argentina, which now vies with China as the richest source of new dinosaur discoveries. It is, of course, a sauropod, one of those immense, long-necked, long-tailed, big-bodied herbivores we boomers knew in our childhood as Brontosaurus, but later learned was properly named Apatosaurus (the story of how this happened is here).

  This was sad news for the Piltdown Men, who took their name from what may have been the greatest paleontological hoax ever.

As we boomers grew older, we learned of other sauropods, like long, slender Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus, with its towering neck. In recent years a large number of new sauropod species have been found in places like Brazil and Utah. Now, the biggest yet has been found in Argentina, weighing 65 tons, more than twice the weight of Brachiosaurus; indeed, more than an empty Boeing 737. It's been given what I think is a very appropriate name: Dreadnaughtus.

I haven't included an image of Dreadnaughtus because Anne Elk (see clip above) has explained what all sauropods look like. If you still need help, there's a picture of one on the wall behind.

Addendum: I neglected to credit the Spinosaurus image to "Barry's Dinosaur Info" in Dinotopia. "Barry's", in turn, credits the image to Arthur Weasley. Perhaps the same vein, I learned through "Barry's" of a dinosaur called Dracorex hogwartsia.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mets finish second!

Yes, only in a division as bad as this year's NL East could a team ending the season five games under .500 earn a second place finish, and yes, they have to share this honor with their frequent nemeses, the Braves. Still, just a few weeks ago I would have been happy to see them equal their third place finish of last year. Indeed, it seemed more likely than not that they'd sink to the dismal fourth of their preceding three seasons.

But unlike so many previous seasons, the Mets sparkled in September, going 15-10. On the 15th of the month, rookie pitcher Jacob deGrom (photo) started against the Marlins and struck out the first eight batters, which tied a Major League record. As a precaution, management took him out of the rotation for the remainder of the season. After that, the Mets were 7-4, including a three game sweep of the Braves and a 2-1 series with the Astros to finish things off.

The Mets also ended the season with a six run advantage in overall scoring, despite their difficulties in bringing in runners in scoring position and their still sketchy bullpen.

Looking ahead, the Mets have a promising set of young arms, including deGrom and Matt Harvey. Some fans are complaining about Harvey's having attended Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium instead of being with the Mets in their game against the Nats that evening, despite Harvey's being on the DL. I say it was a classy move, although I do wish he'd have worn his Mets cap instead of a Knicks one.

Image: By slgckgc (Jacob deGrom) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 26, 2014

Postscript to Picasso story: a bittersweet conclusion.

Back in February I posted about a threat to La Tricorne (image above), a Picasso curtain that has hung for over 55 years in the Four Seasons Restaurant, located in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Aby Rosen, a principal of RFR Holding LLC, which acquired the Seagram Building in 2000, wanted to remove La Tricorne, ostensibly because it was endangered by steam leaking from the wall behind it. After experts testified that there was no possibility of that, because the wall contained no steam pipes, and others testified that removing the curtain could cause irreparable damage to it, a court issued a temporary restraining order. Despite this, Mr. Rosen finally prevailed, and will now be able to fill the space once occupied by La Tricorne with works from his collection by the likes of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.

The good news, to the extent there is any, is that La Tricorne was removed without damage, and that the Museum of the City of New York has agreed to take it and to keep it on public display as a part of the city's heritage, now rudely displaced.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Jo Stafford, "Autumn in New York."

Jo Stafford was one of my parents' favorite singers. They owned several 78 RPM records of her songs, one of which was "Autumn in New York." The video clip above has her singing the song, along with a montage of photos of the city in autumn, and of the singer.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The American Victory floating museum in Tampa.

American Victory is one of three surviving examples of the "victory" class of cargo ships built near the end of World War Two to serve in the Allied war effort. They succeeded the liberty ships, of which 2,710 were built in the early war years; certainly the greatest feat of ship mass production in history. While the liberties were, as FDR called them, "ugly ducklings," the victories were, in my opinion, among the handsomest of twentieth century freighters.

I've known two men who served on American Victory. One was Paul Schiffman, whom I knew over the course of many years when he served as afternoon and early evening bartender at the Lion's Head. Paul was a mate on her maiden voyage in 1945, when American Victory was used to ship cargo to American forces in the Pacific. The other is Mike Wholey, whom I met at a memorial gathering for Paul, and who served as a mate on her final voyage in cargo service, delivering supplies to American forces in Vietnam in 1969.
After that final voyage in 1969, American Victory was mothballed and put into the reserve fleet.  She was kept at anchor in Virginia's James River. In the late 1990s she was due to go for scrap, but in 1999 she was acquired by a private company, The Victory Ship, Inc., and brought to Tampa. She is docked there, at a former commercial dock adjacent to the Florida Aquarium, where she serves as the American Victory Mariners Memorial and Museum Ship. She has been maintained in seaworthy condition, and makes occasional short cruises. She is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As I approached her from the stern, I saw a laughing gull perched on her rudder.
View of the ship's bridge and funnel from the main deck.
Seen from the main deck, the tug Brendan J. Bouchard and a barge were docked across the channel.
One of American Victory's antiaircraft guns, seen from near the stern, looking forward.
The ship's bridge. Note the wheel at right, the compass and radar screen housings, and the engine room telegraph with the dial face, used to send instructions to the ship's engineers below.
Outside on the bridge.
The galley.
Seamen's stateroom.
Looking down to the engine room, from a catwalk.
Looking aft from American Victory's stern, a  cargo ship is docked further up the channel. Beyond, the tug Sea Eagle is in drydock.

American Victory is one of several victory ships that were named for American colleges and universities. She is named for American University, in Washington, D.C., in recognition of that institution's contributions to the war effort.