Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Orleans!!!! How did I get here...

Oh yea, it was Teresa's 50th B-Day and as a present, Jackie and I joined her there to celebrate, and I'm glad we did, so I don't have to go back if I don't want to.  New Orleans in a funny place.  In as much as it is really just a state of mind, it is quite possible to find yourself here when you least expect it.  As luck would have it, we were there for some kind of festival or other but as I soon found out, luck has nothing to do with it, because they have some kind of festival there every few weeks or so.  So check your schedules.  But one thing is for sure.  Take the city bus from the airport to down town.  It's a couple of bucks and you immediately become part of the landscape and you will save a fortune in cab fare.  First night at the Weston which had a pretty good room and pretty bad food at the in house restaurant called Zoe which was free with our credits, but still wasn't worth it.  Jackie and I found no redeeming qualities.  Our room had a view of kind of good view of downtown New Orleans.

Since we're on the subject, the only way to get around in style are the trollies.  There's the St. Charles line that takes you through the garden district as far as Carrollton.

Once you get to the end of the line, if you are hungry, eat at the Camellia Grill.  Its old, authentic, and the price is right.  Then there are the Canal Street Lines and the City Park Lines.  Can't remember where they go, but if you get the all day pass, who cares.  Its all good.  Just get on and off as you please and you'll see it all.

Otherwise just enjoy the sights and sounds, they're everywhere...

St. Patrick's Cathedral...

New Orleans at night is magical.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a tripod, because I never have a tripod, so almost all of my night shots were blurry.  This was the only kind of good one.  It reminds me of the photographs you see in the book Paris At Night, shot in the 1930's by Brassai, so I like it a lot.   All in all, looking back, you could have taken a million photos there day or night (hopefully someone has), so these are only a few impressions of a newbie , and looking back I always think I could have done a better job, and as always, I say...next time, but I say that a lot, and there are only so many next times, so...

We might be hobo's, but we are still tourists in other people's reality, so how can you pass up one of these pictures?  Trite, but I love them.

Well, as it turned out, I found out that we were there for the French Quarter Festival, which is probably a lot like all the other festivals...a lot of music...a lot of food...a lot of people...a lot of noise...a lot of drinking and a lot of what everyone goes to New Orleans for...This is a photo of Tommy Malone, a member of the Subdudes who our friend Teresa, who was with us celebrating her 50th (in case you forgot), is crazy about.  Also saw Trombone Shorty who I like, but who wasn't so short anymore, was kind of no longer a novelty, and mostly played the trumpet.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Back in town in search of answers...

Jackie had some travel related business in NYC, and as much as I wanted to stay home, she enticed me with a couple of free nights at the Andaz Hotel East, so how could I say no.  We drove down to Poughkeepsie  and took the Metro North into Grand Central Station.

It still grand and evocative, and as things continue to go down hill in terms of the city turning into a theme park, all condos, clothes, cuisine and cute, it quickly becoming the most authentic thing left.  As luck would have it, we got there for its 100th birthday!!!

As I mentioned, we stayed at the Andaz on the corner of 5th Ave and 42nd Street overlooking the New York Library, with the Met Life Building in the background.  It was kind of rainy, but that is the best time to be in Bryant Park, right behind the library along Fifth Avenue.

Looking at this photo reminds me of a poem from my first book written in the mid 1970's when I was still very much a part of the city. and was actually on the way to the wedding rehearsal of a good friend getting married at the Plaza on a gray and dreary day that somehow felt perfect to me, at least, walking through the city with my tux over my shoulder and anticipation in my heart that obviously inspired poetry.  Feel free to skip it if it bores you...

                                         Determined gray and silver towers
                                         thrusting through thick skies
                                         extending earthward
                                         touching me with its damp presence
                                         reaffirming pledges of youthful fancy
                                         made amidst the clutching hands and
                                         frenzied banners of causes
                                         long ago celebrated.

                                         Alone now on that suddenly desolate street
                                         moving more and more swiftly against
                                         the pulse and swell of nighttime armies
                                         of menacingly yellow taxis... 
                                         I am full of a city
                                         that no longer understands the gentle lover
                                         trapped inside a body
                                         rigidly braced against uncertainty.

                                         More slowly now along
                                         quiet and somber gray rain washed streets
                                         as if all roads lead to the park
                                         whose glazed and solitary benches
                                         recall many a soldiers kiss
                                         as if it were the last...
                                         silent conspirator in dreams stillborn,
                                         we meet once more to recall
                                         our moments of undisciplined passion,
                                         as always, in the silent embrace
                                         of city rain.
Back to the present.  The weather cleared the next day and I took the subway at 23rd Street down to the lower east side to do some shopping, Yonah Shimmel, Russ and Daughters, Gus Pickles,  et al...

and was met by some pretty scary people...

and rode for about 20 blocks standing next to this painfully attractive young woman, one of those chosen few who seem to carry their beauty as a burden they bear in the otherwise gray and mundane world of us mortals, who both feed and offend them by our lustful, furtive glances.  I did not take a picture for obvious reasons, but as always, a haiku was on my lips...

                                                     Such a cross to bear
                                                     carrying that harsh beauty
                                                     all over your face.

But at the end of the day it is always reassuring to know that Tom Cruise is there to save us from the impending oblivion that will consume us, although I fear that it is already too late for me, as I haunt the city like a ghost looking for memories carried in the bits and shards of the city I grew up in.

The sign is there on the lower east side, but no Schapiro's, long gone .

Even the urban wall art has morphed into a new kind of wall art these days, paper cut outs pasted on walls seems to be replacing the spray paint , so as the sign at Bowery and Rivington Streets says, in spite of it all, I'll be back for more.  As you can tell I haven't got much to say anymore about New York.  The forces of evil masquerading as progress have won and I have been reduced to taking pictures of pictures of pictures...

Like Picasso in his later years, who just kept painting the same picture over and over and over again for an adoring and wealthy clientele, I feel like I am falling into the same pattern, but where are the adoring and wealthy patrons when I need them?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Black Beauty...

It was in the late spring of 1984 when I had reached a low point in my life, living in Ottawa, Ontario, unemployed, recently exiled from a disastrous marriage, sleeping on an old mattress on the floor of an former girlfriend's house, and the object of distain, self imposed and otherwise, picking up a few bucks here and there working as a day laborer for a Yugoslavian landscaper named Rados who was quite bright, interesting and fully appreciated the irony of having a guy with a PhD working for him, digging holes, laying sod and bricks, and not much else in those days.  Rados and I liked each other and talked a lot about the absurdities of life that brought us together in our respective exiles, and we would occasionally run into each other in later years, after I had recovered and had regained a sense of personhood and humor about all that, and he seemed glad to see me.

The full depth of despair regarding my circumstances dawned on me one hot June afternoon while I was sitting on a stoop in Ottawa South, trying to find respite from the disapproving sun, when for some reason it dawned on me that I had no keys.  I mean no keys as in no car, no home (Linda never locked her house), no office, no locker at the squash club,  basically nothing of value that required being locked up.   I was nothing, bodiless. void of meaning and worth, chaff blown about by the wind and too numb to care.  Things had bottomed out, spending endless days roaming the streets in search of nothing but an escape from nothing.  I was hot, tired and had become invisible or at least I had hoped I had.  
A poem I had written on a park bench in Confederation Park watching the world go by, during those dark days when I was still amusing myself by writing poems in spite of everything...

July 10, 1984

                                        A red Corvette,
                                        with the obligatory blond 
                                        flaming, screeching, insulting
                                        the slow moving field of vision
                                        of one who is on foot and
                                        damp with the sweat of
                                        a summer's day that will not yield
                                        or permit refuge 
                                        in the damp crevice of dreams
                                        where even life might be induced
                                        to extend roots and find ways to
                                        live with the sun.

Tired of walking, tired of thinking, tired of being,  I passed an old bike shop on Bank Street which had a rack full of used bikes out front.  My eye was immediately drawn to a strange one that looked like, and actually was the amalgam of the parts of 3 or 4 bikes cobbled together into one with clamps and baling wire and painted bright black to conceal the bright orange underneath that was apparent in spots  where the black had scraped off.  A kindred spirit.   How much is that one I asked the owner.  The "Black Beauty" he asked sort of mockingly.  Yea, I said.   Fifteen dollars.  I'll take it I said.  He inflated the tires adjusted the handle bars, and I rode off into the world on my bike, inexplicably happy, with a renewed sense of worth and personhood;  the owner of a trusty steed that I am convinced saved my life and which I still own and use and to which I owe a debt of gratitude, to this day.   Salvation comes when you least expect it, and looks nothing at all like you imagined it would.  I'm not saying that the Black Beauty saved my life that day, but who knows.  Thanks Black Beauty.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Even in New Bremen they don't care...

On Highway 812 in upstate New York, somewhere between Lowville and the Canadian Border...

there is a little town called New Bremen, founded in the mid 1800's and built along the Black River Canal system to serve as a depot for farmers shipping goods by barge.  When the railroad was build some years later, the canal fell into disuse, but the town continued to serve as a depot for the railroad and grew to what at present seems to consist of 7 or 8 non-residential buildings, one of which is the Crystal View, which was once a hotel and later, between 1955 and 1966, a boarding house.  In this small canal town  there are also 2 or 3 churches, a depot building and this nice old general store...

But the purpose of this entry is not really about the town, but rather about a small wooden structure built many years ago along the side of the tracks, that looks too small to be a station, but probably sold passenger tickets, and/or served as a shelter for workers or people waiting for the train...

This photo was taken years ago during my B&W days on one of my many trips through the area.   Over the years I had developed a great fondness for this little structure that sat quietly beside the tracks, bothering no one.  For years it was just there, somewhat neglected, but looking more or less the same, until about two years ago, when I noticed that the sign  announcing New Bremen was gone, and the building was starting to fall into disrepair.  As well, someone had erected a white plastic fence behind it.  The siding was falling down, there were holes in the roof, a window was broken, and it seemed to be imploding...

Last time I drove through New Bremen, in December of 2012,  the building was gone.   Stripped of its identity, its dignity, and soon after, its existence!!!  Considering that there are only a few buildings  in New Bremen to begin with, didn't the locals even care about this important little piece of American history that was under their care!!!  Obviously not.  It was late when I passed through, so I didn't take a picture of the empty lot where the building stood for 100 years or so.  But I'm sure it will be there next time I pass through.  So I'll report back.

I live in Albany, NY, an upstate city with a deplorable history of  caring for its architectural heritage, allowing buildings to deteriorate implode and/or burn down at an alarming rate that is too painful to enumerate here.  But I was truly shocked that the people of New Bremen could allow this to happen and it leaves me feeling even more hopeless about our collective failure to protect our American past, making the place of photographer as urban archeologist even more important.  Without us, nobody would have any idea about what was once there.


Post Script 5/2/13
As promised, when I passed through New Bremen this week I took a picture of the no longer existent railroad building.  Now it no longer obstructs our view of the lovely plastic fence they built behind it.