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Friday, August 19, 2016

Urban Gadabout: Noshwalks, "Steamboat Bill Jr.," Long Island Art Deco, and mudh more (Fall gadding preview, Part 2)


Tomorrow evening movies return to Washington Heights' gorgeous, nearly 3400-seat United Palace Theater [click to enlarge], built in 1930 as Loew's 175th Street, the last of Loew's five 1929-30 "Wonder Theaters" in NYC and Jersey City, as the Buster Keaton silent masterpiece Steamboat Bill Jr. is shown with live organ accompaniment. Advance tickets, available online through today only, are $10. (Tickets tomorrow night will be $15, $10 for seniors.)

by Ken

As I explained Wednesday in Part 1 of this fall gadding preview, what I intended as a brief note on Myra Alperson's Noshwalks, which I haven't written about before, grew out of hand, and so had to be spun off into a Part 2, which has given me an opportunity to include some other odds 'n' ends, including the screening, with live organ accompaniment (by silent film music composer, organist, and orchestrator Bernie Anderson), of Buster Keaton's 1928 classic Steamboat Bill Jr. at the United Palace Theater in my own northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

We'll get to the Noshwalks et al., but first --


STEAMBOAT BILL JR. AT THE UNITED PALACE THEATER


Last night I attended an Open House New York (OHNY) members' open house at the gorgeous United Palace Theater, which included a presentation by Mike Fitelson, executive director of United Palace of Cultural Arts, one of the three entities responsible for activities in this amazing nearly 3400-seat palace, built as Loew's 175th Street Theater in 1930, the last of five "Wonder Theaters" built by Loew's in 1929-30 (so named not just for their massive scale but for their monumental "Wonder Organs"). Here's Wikipedia's rundown of those Wonder Theaters (links and footnotes onsite):
• Loew's 175th Street Theatre, Manhattan (opened 1930) - Operates as a church and an entertainment venue under the name United Palace Theater.
• Loew's Jersey Theatre, Jersey City (opened 1929) - Operates as a classic cinema and performing arts center.
• Loew's Kings Theatre, Brooklyn (opened 1929) - Reopened January 23, 2015, following a complete renovation.[2]
• Loew's Paradise Theatre, The Bronx (opened 1929) - Between 2005 and 2012 it operated as a venue for live entertainment. It is currently a church.
• Loew's Valencia Theatre, Queens (opened 1929) - Remains open as a church, the Tabernacle of Prayer.[3]
Obviously the best-known currently is Loew's Kings in Brooklyn, which as noted reopened in 2015 after a long period of neglect, apparently fabulously rehabilitated. (I haven't been inside the building since Howie's and my high school graduation, like graduations for schools all over Brooklyn, took place there -- a long, long time ago.)

Once Loew's 175th Street went out of use as a movie theater, it had the good fortune, from a preservationist standpoint, of being bought by Reverend Ike, the televangelist, who gave it the name United Palace and undertook an impressive restoration. (I can vouch, never having been inside the building before last night, that it looks simply stunning.) Since Reverend Ike's death in 2009, the "trans-denominational" activities of the United Palace House of Inspiration have been overseen by his son, United Palace's president, Xavier Eikerenkoetter, and his wife. In 2012 Xavier got the ball rolling for an uptown arts center (Loew's 175th had always billed itself as providing "Times Square entertainment closer to home") the United Palace of Cultural Arts, which opened in 2013 as. (The third United Palace entity is presumably as for-profit as it can be: It books the theater, which is being steadily modernized technologically, for outside performances.)

When Reverend Ike bought the building, he had no idea that sealed in concrete was none other than the Wonder Organ, which when uncased turned out to be still playable -- at least until accumulated water and other damage (including "a small fire") to its (count 'em) 1799 pipes rendered it unusable. Now, however, it is being fully restored, under the auspices of the New York Theatre Organ Society, and NYTOS Recording Secretary Nick Myers was on hand, brimful of excitement, to talk about the project, with the four-keyboard console on display in the lobby for one last night before being removed to the space where it will be worked on. (Nick explained that yes indeed, all of those pipes will be painstakingly removed for restoration -- some onsite, others to a proper restoration site. And by one means or another the rest of the instrument's work will be got at.)


The United Palace Wonder Organ console (click to enlarge)

From the NYTOS website:
In the late 1920s, the Loew’s chain of movie theatres designed five “Wonder” theatres to be built, initially, in all five boroughs of New York City (Staten Island’s was eventually built in Jersey City). These theatres were some of the grandest movie palaces ever built and would stand as the flagship theatres for the company. To match the extravagance of the Wonder theatres, the Loew’s firm commissioned the Robert-Morton Organ Company of Van Nuys, California, the second largest theatre organ builder in the world, to build five identical, large organs to fill the massive spaces. These organs would be Robert-Morton’s magnum opus and use some of the highest pressures and largest scales the company ever produced. They would also be some of the last organs the firm produced.

The console, where the organist plays, was designed to be “over the top” and very ornate. The organ’s large pipework and many percussions are installed in two large chambers (rooms) on either side of the stage behind large statues. Also inside of these chambers are over 2,000 valves, tens of thousands of feet of wire, and twelve sound effects. The organ console also has its own lift from the orchestra pit which would rise up, extravagantly, at the beginning and end of each film. The organ in the United Palace was the youngest of the five Wonders; it is the only remaining in its original location with all of its original parts, unaltered. [If I've got this right, the working Wonder in Loew's Jersey is the one originally from Loew's Paradise in the Bronx. -- Ed.] From the over 12,000 theatre organs manufactured throughout the world, there are only around 20 known to be in their original theatres. This organ, along with the Brooklyn Paramount and Radio city, are in that very short list.
Obviously tomorrow night's screening of Steamboat Bill Jr., for the benefit of the organ restoration project, won't be using the United Palace's own Wonder Organ. Luckily, NYTOS has a touring organ, which will be brought onto the premises.


MYRA ALPERSON'S NOSHWALKS


The last Noshwalk I did was just this month in Corona (Queens), which Myra especially likes because the food scene there is still very much in the fermenting stage. Still, you can't do a food tour of Corona, or any kind of tour of Corona, without stopping at the legendary Lemon Ice King of Corona. I had watermelon, and it was really and truly sensational.

I'd been hearing about and seeing listings for Myra's Noshwalks for ages before I finally did one, thanks (as I recall) to a periodic reminder via Justin Ferate's ever-invaluable mailing list -- another reminder of how much we lose when Justin moves to Santa Fe in January (as reported in the update to Part 1 of the preview). Since then I've done a number of Noshwalks, whenever I've managed a schedule fit.

With the double explosion of walking tours generally and, specifically, of food-themed activities, there are now all sorts of food tours going on around town, but none I'm aware of like Myra's now-extensive and far-flung roster of Noshwalks, which cover not just neighborhoods you might expect but all manner of others around the five boroughs, and even beyond. (Go to the website and click on "Tour Schedule," or go directly to the schedule page.) I'm especially trying to keep my calendar clear for the walk in Newark's Ironbound on Sat, Dec 3.)

Myra's walks are quirky and personal and as up-to-date as she can make them -- she's always looking for new gastronomic destinations as well as updating and refreshing even tours she's done for a while, explaining that she herself would be bored doing the same tour over and over. She's especially happy to be able to find areas that are still in the gastronomic developmental stage, when they're at their most fermentatious.

The actual eating consists of mostly takeout items from a circuit of eateries Myra normally scouts afresh for each outing, with occasional planned sitdowns. (At sitdowns eaters are expected to kick in a bit for a tiip, but otherwise all food costs -- though not beverages -- are included in the tour price.) She also scouts neighborhood parks and suchlike public spaces where the goodies can be consumed at leisure, weather permitting -- though even in not-so-permissive weather we've always managed somehow.) Since there are hardly any NYC neighborhoods these days that are ethnically monolithic, tours almost always include a fascinating assortment of goodies.

Myra doesn't neglect non-gastronomic features of neighborhoods either. For example, as many tours as I've done in Flushing, I had never set foot in the post office before doing her Flushing Noshwalk. And back on gastronomic ground, as many walking tours as I've done in Brooklyn's Greenpoint, it wasn't till I did Greenpoint with Myra that I heard tell of the great weekly event at the plant of Acme Smoked Fish, the fish smokers-processors-distributors -- "In Brooklyn since 1906" -- which opens its doors on Fridays only, from 8am to 1pm (there are also limited pre-holiday retail times' cf. Dec 24 and 31), making "Acme Smoked Fish, Blue Hill Bay, and Ruby Bay products available direct to consumers at wholesale prices." (Note: It's cash only.)

Now every week as Friday approaches my mind wanders to thoughts of Greenpoint and Acme. For that matter, each of the Noshwalks I've done with Myra has left indelible food memories -- some as tangible as the bottle of delicious Greek extra-virgin olive oil from a "Mediterranean" (aka Greek) market in Astoria, where a little old man was dispensing samples, and a bunch of us who sampled couldn't resist buying. Yum! You leave each tour not only well filled but well provided with a list of destinations to return to, as well as a feel for the ways Myra scouts the offerings of unfamikliar destinations (and the familiar ones too). The tours also tend to attract eaters with special knowledge of the neighborhood which can enrich the experience, in deliciously unpredictable ways.

Here's what Myra has listed for the rest of 2016 (but keep checking the schedule on the website for changes including possible additions):

Sun, Aug 21: Rego Park (Queens)
Sat, Aug 27: Woodlawn and Wakefield (Bronx)
Sun, Sept 11: Sephardic Brooklyn
Sat, Sept 17: Ridgewood Queens
Sat, Sept 24: Sunset Park (Brooklyn)
Sat, Oct 1: Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach (Brooklyn)
Sat, Oct 8: Astoria (Queens)
Sat, Oct 29: Staten Island Ramble
Sun, Nov 13: Kosher Williamsburg
Sat, Nov 19: Amsterdam Avenue Meander (Manhattan) -- New Tour!
Sat, Dec 3: Nosh New Jersey: Newark's Ironbound
Sat, Dec 10: Belmont/Bronx (Little Italy of the Bronx)
Sat, Dec 17: Dyker Heights Holiday Lights (Brooklyn)
Fri, Dec 30: The Wonders of Woodside (Queens)

Note: There's a Noshwalks blog on Facebook.


ART DECO SOCIETY OF NEW YORK (ADSNY)

In Part 1 of the preview I noted Tony Robins's Oct 16 "Art Deco of Central Park West" for the Municipal Art Society as self-recommending -- if you think of "art deco" and "New York," you think of Anthony W/ Robins. (I should also have warned that it's likely to fill up sooner rather than later. You can, by the way, keep up on Tony's doings on anthonywrobins.com.) It was because of Tony that I found my way to the Art Deco Society of New York, for which he does events including periodic ones of the lollapalooza variety. My initiation was an April 2015 all-day five-borough art deco bus expedition, "Art Deco Landmarks: Unlikely Battles and Great Successes" (which you can read about by scrolling down on the ADSNY "Past Events" page).

In a few weeks Tony is undertaking an even more rarified -- for us city-bound folk, anyway -- exploration, for which I gather there's still space. (I don't take chances on these things. I registered as soon as I saw it announced!)


Destination Deco: Long Island Bus Tour
Sun, Sept 11, 9am-6pm

Come join us on an all-day safari as we explore the wilds of Long Island looking for Art Deco. Though Nassau and Suffolk counties are known primarily for their suburban residential architecture, they also have town and city centers with commercial and government buildings dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s – and that means new Deco marvels for us to discover and enjoy.

Join architectural historian, Tony Robins, as he leads ADSNY on this special day-long bus trip that will see treasures such as:

• The Nassau County Courthouse, part of an early 1930s “Modern Classic” government complex in Mineola.
• A handsome WPA-era post office in Hempstead, which is across the street from a fabulous early telephone company building by the same firm (Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker) that gave us the three great Deco behemoths of Lower Manhattan (and it includes marvelous ornamental tracery similar to that found on Ralph Walker’s seminal Barclay-Vesey building).
• An intact, 1928 Art Deco high school in Valley Stream, rivaling any of New York City’s (very few) Art Deco public school buildings.
• Another splendid Deco post office, in Patchogue.

But then come the special treats!

• Lunch at the central pavilion – just opposite the central administration tower – of Robert Moses’s 1930s fabulously designed Jones Beach. [Note: Lunch isn't included in the tour price.]
• A visit to a rarely seen set of WPA murals in a Hempstead firehouse.
• And a visit, behind-the-scenes tour, and wine reception at the beautifully restored and splendidly Deco, Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead, where we will present an ADSNY award to the couple who single-handedly brought the theater back from the brink of destruction.

Members: $90. Non-members: $115. [Check for prices for Jazz Age Order members and their guests.]
As you can see, the saving on the member price will go a long way toward paying for your membership ($55 for one year, or $140 for three years), which gets you the member price on all ADSNY events. (For membership info, check here.) So far announced are:

Thu, Sept 22, 6:30-8pm: Bakelite: A Collector's Odyssey
Sat, Oct 1, 1-3pm: Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn Walking Tour (a new tour with Matt Postal)
Sat, Oct 22, 1-5pm: Jersey City Art Deco Bus Tour (Note: Registrants have to provide their own transportation to the meeting place in Jersey City and then back.) [I'm bummed because I can't do this tour, at least the second event -- so far! -- that I can't do because it's the same day as Jack Eichenbaum's epic trek along the L train.]
Sat, Oct 29, 1-3pm: Jazz Age Icons of Woodlawn Cemetery Halloween Tour (with Susan Olsen)
Thu, Nov 10, 6:30-8pm: Art Deco Ceramics: Craft and Collectability (with Judith Miller and Tom Folk)


AIA (AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS):
NEW YORK CHAPTER (AIANY)

Sometimes things just don't work out. As I've written, I've been frustrated for a while trying to get myself onto one of the tours my pal Mitch Waxman has been doing in Queens's Calvary Cemetery, but every time a new one was announced, I had some kind of schedule conflict. Finally I manned up and made a big decision: Tempted as I was by the Art Deco Society of New York's already-announced "Egyptomania" event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (tickets weren't on sale yet, but I'd already put it on my calendar), on that Saturday in July I would finally do Calvary with Mitch, and I signed up. Then the day before, because extreme heat was forecast, they went and canceled the tour! (Hey, I'm used to Municipal Art Societies, which proceed rain or shine. We don't pack it in just 'cause it may get a little warm.) You'll note below that Brooklyn Brainery has rescheduled Calvary Cemetery with Mitch, for Oct 8. Naturally, I can't make it.

By then, naturally, "Egyptomania" was sold out. So much for acting decisively, for taking control of your damn life! Then I remembered a recent mention by a gadding friend of AIANY, which I tend not to think about because they don't seem to have a mailing list, and for that matter don't seem to have a proper of list of their own tours. For the list I manufactured below, I had to peel the listings off of the AIANY calendar, filtering each month's listings for "Tours."

I don't suppose architects would want us to think of AIA as their trade association, which it is, but it's more serious than that, sharing and promoting all aspects of the profession. And this is one organization that isn't trying to glad-hand us into joining. In fact, unless you have documentable ties to architecture or related professions, you can't join. But AIANY maintains a busy schedule of tours that are open to the public; presumably they'd like us to be better-educated about architecture.

In the past I'd done AIANY tours -- usually, as I think of it, when jogged by some sort of external listing that included them. I remember a nice walking tour of the Financial District; and an excellent preview of the new section of Governors Island, the Hills, before it opened in mid-July; and several boat tours" (which you'll note do have a page of their own): both the "architecture"-themed and "bridge and infrastructure"-themed circumnavigations of Manhattan, and the "Roosevelt Island Loop Tour." I still want to do their boat tour to Staten Island's still-in-the-making, transformed-from-landfill Freshkills Park, which you'll note below is being offered a couple of times in the period covered.

So I checked the schedule, and sure enough that Saturday morning AIANY was offering the tour "Midtown Modernism(s): Crosstown Section: 53rd St (approx.) East to West," listed below for Nov 5. So I registered and even with the heat had a lovely time under the tutelage of architect Kyle Johnson, who in fact chairs the Architecture Tour Committee -- an affable as well as learned chap I'd encountered on a couple of previous AIANY tours where he was representing the committee. As Kyle noted, unlike tours offered by other organization, which tend to stress historic buildings, AIA people as architects, while not neglectful of older buildings, tend to be most interested in what more recent generations of architects have been designing.

Events have been announced through November. Here's what I pulled off the calendar:

Sat, Aug 20, 2-4pm: Remembering the Future: Architecture at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair
Sun, Aug 21, 11am-1pm: Between the Clocks: The Architecture of Park Avenue South
Sat, Aug 27, 10:30am-1pm: Battery Park City: Creating a New Neighborhood
Sun, Aug 28, 9:30am-12:45pm: AIANY Freshkills Boat Tour
Sun, Aug 28, 11am-1:30pm: Roosevelt Island: 1970s "New Town in Town" to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Sat, Sept 10, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): East 42nd Street, the United Nations and Vicinity
Sun, Sept 11, 10:30am-1pm: The High Line, Hudson River Park and New Architecture in West Chelsea and the Far West Village
Sat, Sept 17, 8am-5pm: Escape From the City: Olana State Historic Site Day Trip
Sat, Sept 17, 10am-12:30pm: Times Square: Contemporary Architecture in and around the "Crossroads of the World"
Sat, Sept 24, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): The Park Avenue Corridor
Sun, Sept 25, 10:30am-1pm: Modern FiDi: Expanding and Renovating the Financial District
Sat, Oct 1, 10:30am-1pm: SoHo: New Architectural Interventions in a Historic District
Sun, Oct 2, 10:30am-12:30pm: New York's Civic Center Walking Tour: History of Its Urban Development and Architecture
Sat, Oct 8, 1:30-3pm: West Side Story: The Evolution of Lincoln Center
Sun, Oct 9, 10:30am-1pm: Lower West Side Rebirth: New and Reused Architecture in the Former Washington Market Area and Southern TriBeCa
Sun, Oct 9, 1:30-4:45pm: AIANY Freshkills Park Boat Tour
Sat, Oct 22, 1:45-4:30pm: Battery Park City: Creating a New Neighborhood
Sun, Oct 23, 11am-1:30pm: Between the Clocks: The Architecture of Park Avenue South
Sat, Oct 29, 11am-1:30pm: Roosevelt Island: 1970s "New Town in Town" to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Sun, Oct 30, 10-11:30am: 9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center: Architecture, Urban Planning and the History of the New and Original World Trade Center
Sat, Nov 5, 10:30am-1pm: Midtown Modernism(s): Crosstown Section: 53rd St (approx.) East to West
Sun, Nov 6, 11am-1pm: NYU and Washington Square: Changing Strategies of Growth and Design
Sat, Nov 12, 10:30am-1pm: New Architecture on Cooper Square, Bond St. and the New Bowery
Sun, Nov 13, 2-4pm: Remembering the Future: Architecture at the 1964/65 New York World's Fair
Sat, Nov 19, 10:30am-1pm: The Changing Face of North Midtown: On and Off 57th Street
Sun, Nov 20, 10am-12:30pm: Modern Architecture and Adaptive Reuse in the West Village and Meatpacking District

Non-member prices appear to be $25 for two-hour tours, $30 for two-and-a-half-hour tours.


BROOKLYN BRAINERY and
NEW YORK OBSCURA SOCIETY

I list these together, even though they're wholly unrelated -- except in my mind, because I came to both as the organizations (apart from the Working Harbor Committee) for which Mitch Waxman does most of his walking tours. That said, they both do lots of other interesting stuff.

BROOKLYN BRAINERY's mission is reasonably priced classes in most any sort of thing you could want to learn. Just in the last week I've done cooking classes with both halves of the Masters of Social Gastronomy, Jonathan Soma, a computer geek by day who "has more hobbies than can dance on the head of a pin," and Sarah Lohman, who styles herself a "historic gastronomist": the American-pancake installment of Soma's many-parted "Summer of Pancakes," and "Pies from Scratch: Stone Fruit Galette" with Sarah. As a matter of fact, Soma and Sarah are about to do an MSG event, "The Story of Sourdough: Starters to Science," Sunday evening, Aug 29, at the Institute for Culinary Education, with an assist from ICE's dean of bread baking, Sim Lee, who "will perform a sourdough bread-baking demonstration."

Since the $15 fee includes two beers, the thing is practically free, and it's fun just to see ICE's lovely, relatively new space. However, because of building and security logistics at Brookfield Place (the former World Financial Center), getting to it and into it, especially at the same time as a large group, is a hassle and a half, and lovely as ICE's class spaces look, the demonstration space is so large that amid that mob, even with a few video monitors, you're not likely to see any demonstrations very well. Still, the crowd is great for socializing, if that's what you're into, and remember, you've got your two beers.

Again, most of the Brainery offerings are lectures or classes that take place either at home base in Prospect Heights or other locations. Here are some field events I pulled out of the listings for the next month which have space left as of writing:

Sat, Aug 20, 12-1:30pm: Governors Island Walk (with James Hoffman, $15)
Sat, Aug 20, 10-11:30am: Drawn to Trees: Greenpoint (Brooklyn) (with Lisa Nett, $12)
Sat, Aug 27, Sat, Sept 3, Sun, Sept 18, and Sat, Sept 24, 10am-4pm: Oko Farms' Aquaponics ($135)
Sat, Aug 27, 1-3pm: Lower Manhattan History Walk (with James Hoffman, $20)
Sat, Sept 10 (Carroll Gardens), Sept 17 (Prospect Heights), or Sept 24 (Greenpoint), 10:30am-12n: Street Tree Identification for Beginners (with Lisa Nett, $13)
Sat, Oct 8, 11am-1pm: Calvary Cemetery (with Mitch Waxman, $30)

The local OBSCURA SOCIETIES are event-oriented local arms of Atlas Obscura. Their events are listed on the "Events" page of the Atlas Obscura website, but it's not necessarily easy to pull out the ones in your area. (There's an e-mail sign-up box on the above-referenced "Events" page, but I don't know whether that selects just for your area.) The New York Obscura Society does have a great mailing list, which is splendid at keeping subscribers up to date on future offerings. Otherwise, I can't find any listing of all offerings. (There's a Facebook page, but it has hardly any listings). I wound up using the relevant page on the Eventbrite site, from which I extracted these listings, omitting events that are already sold out (but you can sign up for a waiting list, so you may want to check them out as well):

Sun, Aug 21, 11am-1pm: The Poison Cauldron of Newtown Creek (with Mitch Waxman)
Sun, Sept 4, 11am-1:30pm: 19th Century Slums on the Lower East Side -- Dystopia in America
Sat, Sept 10, 10:30am-12:30pm: Wildlife Dioramas at the Museum of Natural History
Tue, Sept 13, 7-9pm: Behind the Scenes at Puppet Kitchen
Wed, Sept 14, 1-6pm: Chipmunk Taxidermy Workshop
Fri, Oct 7, 7:30-11:30pm: Murder and Mayhem at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Thu, Nov 3, 6:30-7:45pm: New York Academy of Medicine Series: Alchemy
#

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Urban Gadabout: A fall gadding preview

With Wolfe Walkers update: Oh no, it's the final season!


Yes! On Oct 22 Jack Eichenbaum is doing another of his day-long explorations of a single NYC subway line -- this time the L train.

by Ken

With the Municipal Art Society's Sept-Oct schedule already up and open to registration and with early (members-only) registration for the New York Transit Museum's fall schedule having begun this morning, we're already late for a fall gadding preview if we're ever going to do one. We'll get back to them, but I want to start with what for me is the fall highlight, another of urban geographer Jack Eichenbaum's all-day excursions built around a subway line, this time the L train, especially timely as its Manhattan-to-Brooklyn link is about to be shut down for 18 months for rehabilitation of its Sandy-damaged East River tunnel.


JACK EICHENBAUM

Jack, who's the Queens borough historian, always calls his day-long exploration of and along the #7 (Flushing) line his "signature tour" (you may recall that he recently did a wholly revamped version), but I've also spent days with him on the J train and the Q (Brighton Line). So I whipped out my checkbook when he announced this to his mailing list (which you should sign up for on his website, Geography of New York with Jack Eichenbaum):

[Click to enlarge.]

Life and Art Along the L Train
Sat, Oct 22, 10am-5:30 pm

Since its expansion to 8th Avenue in Manhattan in the 1930s, the L line has stimulated gentrification along its route which traverses three boroughs. We explore the West Village and meatpacking district -- including a portion of the new Highline Park -- and on to the East Village, Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood noting the continuous transformation of each of these neighborhoods, stimulated by the movement of artists.

This tour requires registration and payment in advance and is restricted to 25 participants. Fee $49. For a complete prospectus, email jaconet@aol.com. The L train will soon be shut down for repairs; join this tour prior to that.

Note that Jack is also doing a half-day outing on the J train:
A Day on the J
Sat, Sept 17, 10:30am-1:30pm

The J train enabled the crowded masses of the Lower East Side to move to Brooklyn and Queens. Elevated from the Williamsburg Bridge crossing until Jamaica, the ride provides diverse views of industrial and bucolic landscapes. This tour concentrates on the portion of the J train within Queens. Walks take place in commercial and historic downtown Jamaica, residential Victorian Richmond Hill and residential Woodhaven ending at historic Neir’s tavern, NYC’s oldest bar. At Neir’s enjoy a prix fixe lunch or drink and eat as you wish.

This tour requires registration and payment in advance and is restricted to 25 participants. Fee $25. For a complete prospectus, email jaconet@aol.com.

In addition, as usual Jack has been doing Wednesday-evening tours in Queens this summer. Still to come are:

Wed, Aug 24, 6-8pm, Corona Circuit
Wed, Sept 14, 5-7pm, Roosevelt Island Bridge and Four Freedoms Park

Check out the "Public Tour Schedule" page on Jack's website.


JUSTIN FERATE -- WOLFE WALKERS

For some time now, the peerless Justin has been doing most of his public tours with Wolfe Walkers, and he just sent out an advance notice of the fall season that's about to be announced. When it is announced, it should be findable on the Wolfe Walkers page of his website, but the surest way to get up-to-date info is by being on Justin's mailing list. As I point out frequently, Justin's mailing list is an indispensable (free) resource for information not just about tours but about goings-on generally in NYC. He sends out a lot of stuff, but I can say that I never ignore one of his pass-alongs.

Meanwhile, here's the schedule as Justin sent it out in his advance notice (but see the UPDATE below):

Sunday, Sept 18, 3-6pm: Williamsburg -- The Land of the Chasidim (Rabbi David Kalb of the Jewish Learning Center of New York, with Justin on hand)
Saturday, Oct. 1, 10am-3pm: Fordham Museum of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities + Fordham University + Belmont (Arthur Ave. Little Italy)
Sat, Oct 8, 9:40am-2pm: United Palace Theatre and the New High Bridge
Sat, Oct 22, 11am-4pm: Broad Channel (Queens) and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (with Justin and Don Riepe, director of the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society)
Sat, Oct 29, 7:45am-6pm: BUS: City Island and Bartow-Pell Mansion (with lunch at the Lobster Box on City Island)
Sun, Nov 6, 11:30am-2:30pm: Socrates Sculpture Park and the Isamu Noguchi Museum (Astoria, Queens)
Sun, Nov 13, 9:45am-6pm: Upper Montclair (NJ) Historic District and Stained Glass Tour (with Justin and Ron Rice)
Sat, Dec 17, 12n-3pm: Holiday Brunch at Pete’s Tavern, with Stanford White lecture by Justin

UPDATE: Justin has now sent out the Wolfe Walkers Fall 2016 brochure, and I've added the schedule information to the above listings. You can download a pdf of the brochure here.

The startling news (startling to me, at least) comes at the end of the brochure, where there's a full-page "Personal Note from Justin" followed by a two-page history of the Wolfe Walkers. In the "personal note" Justin tells a much fuller version of a story I first heard him tell when he suddenly realized that he'd been doing Wolfe Walkers longer than Gerard Wolfe. He tells how the dark depression he was experiencing over what was seeming an ill-advised move to New York City was turned around by his first contact with Professor Wolfe and the Wolfe Walkers. The part I especially love about the story is that it turned on Justin's habit-- and I can't tell you how much I love this -- of sending a thank-you note whenever he enjoys a book by a living author, on the theory that the author will have endured plenty of carping and nitpicking.

It was his discovery of the Wolfe Walkers, Justin says, that led him to fall in love with New York, "and I owe it all to Gerard Wolfe." He continues:
I have never been able to fully thank Gerard for the many, many years of pleasure he instigated for me. When Gerard left New York, his followers were bereft, so they asked me if I would continue in Gerard’s footsteps (literally). I’ve never regretted doing so.

The Wolfe Walkers have provided me with decades of warm, embracing, and exciting adventures. Hopefully, I’ve been able to provide the Wolfe Walkers with many of those same qualities in the countless tours I’ve created over that time.

Now, time continues in its steady pace. In January, I will be moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico. It will be
difficult to say “Goodbye.” As most of you know, my love for New York City is palpable.
He goes on to thank Gerard "for your countless gifts" and "all of you Wolfe Walkers for joining me in our many, many adventures over the decades."

And all I can think -- once past the "Oh no, say it ain't so" stage -- is: No, thank you, Justin.

With the schedule heads-up Justin sent out earlier, I was able to juggle my schedule, with no idea that this would be the final Wolfe Walkers season, to be able to do all but two of the events -- one of them I've already done but would happily have done again if I didn't have a schedule conflict. (That's the Broad Channel/Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge tour with Justin and probably the best-known Jamaica Bay preservation activist, Don Riepe.) So my registrations are in the mail. Now I have to figure out how I thank Justin for everything I've learned thanks to him.


MUNICIPAL ART SOCIETY (MAS)

There is, as usual, a tremendously broad assortment of offerings -- at $20 for members, $30 for nonmembers. Remember that with your modestly priced membership (starting at $50 for an Individual Membership, $40 for seniors over 62), you also get a voucher for a free tour, so membership -- in addition to supporting an invaluable civic organization -- should be pretty much self-recommending.)

It's probably just me, but the tour that really popped out for me is Exploring the Hunts Point Peninsula, Sept 10, with Jean Arrington. Jean is best known as the ranking authority on the citywide deluge of schools built by the legendary C.B.J. Snyder but is also known to step out to interesting areas of "her" borough, the Bronx. Thanks to Open House New York I've been able to tour several of the big Hunts Point food markets, and couldn't help wondering what else goes on on that peninsula sticking out from the South Bronx.

Check out all the listings, but I can say that I get itchy if I go too long without doing a tour with Matt Postal, who's doing Lower Manhattan Skyscrapers, and Brooklyn's Waterfront, Oct. 13, and of course the tours of Tony Robins, Mr. Art Deco, like Art Deco of Central Park West, Oct. 16, are self-recommending. I call attention, especially for people who've never done a walk in the company of that amazing sweetheart Joe Svehlak, to his Atlantic Avenue (Brooklyn), Sept 3, and Nassau Street (Manhattan), Oct 30.

You don't have to remember the MAS Tours link; just go to mas.org and click on "Tours." These Sept-Oct tours still had openings as of writing.

every Fri and Sat, 12:30pm: Tour34: Empire to Penn (with the 34th Street Partnership)
Sat, Sept 3, 10am: Historic Atlantic Avenue (Joe Svehlak)
Fri, Sept 9, 12:30pm: Reflecting Absence: The 9/11 Memorial (Judith Pucci)
Saturday, Sept 10, 2pm, Exploring the Hunts Point Peninsula (Jean Arrington)
Sun, Sept 11, 2pm: Downtown Brooklyn, Part 1: The Department Store District (Francis Morrone) [Note: Part 2, on Oct 23, is already sold out, like Francis's other Sept-Oct tours. I'm surprised there'a still space for Part 1, and wouldn't expect this to remain for long.]
Sun, Sept 11, 2pm: The Theaters of Greenwich Village (Laurence Frommer)
Sat, Sept 17, 11am: Vanderbilt Mansions (Jason Stein)
Sun, Sept 18, 2pm: Jewish History of the Lower East Side (Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy)
Sat, Sept 24, 11am: Before the Code: Lower Manhattan Skyscrapers (Matt Postal)
Sun, Sept 25, 12n: Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York (James and Karla Murray)
Sat, Oct 1, 11am: The Arc of the Beat: From West to East Villages Across Six Decades (Ron Janoff)
Sun, Oct 2, 2pm: Public Art of Lower Manhattan: An Outdoor Gallery Hiding in Plain View (Patrick Waldo)
Sat, Oct 8, 11am: Exploring Historic Jackson Heights (Meredith Toback)
Sun, Oct 9, 2pm: The Italian South Village (Laurence Frommer)
Sat, Oct 15, 11am: Preserving Brooklyn's Waterfront (Matt Postal)
Sat, Oct 15, 1pm: Subway Art Tour 2 (Phil Desiere)
Sun, Oct 16, 2pm: Art Deco of Central Park West (Anthony W. Robins)
Sat, Oct 22, 12:30pm: Exploring City College (Dalton Whiteside)
Sun, Oct 23, 2pm: Pre-Halloween Prospect Park South and Flatbush (Norman Oder)
Sat, Oct 29, 2pm: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: American Cultural Primacy and the Preservation of Our Architectural Treasures (Deobrah Zelcer)
Sat, Oct 29, 11am: Walk the QueensWay (Trust for Public Land and Friends of the QueensWay)
Sun, Oct 30, 11am: Downtown Manhattan's Nassau Street (Joe Svehlak)


NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM

As noted at the outset, registration for the fall schedule is already in progress for members. Information and registration now happen on NYTM's own brand-ew website. Find program information, beginning with the Aug 27 all-day nostalgia ride "To the Rockaways by Rail," on the "Programs" page. Note that some NYTM tours, like the ever-popular "Jewel in the Crown: Old City Hall Station," are members-only.

On offer for fall, at various dates:

Jewel in the Crown: Old City Hall Station (members only, some dates remaining)
Transit Walk: A Trip to Coney Island
Behind the Scenes: Jerome Avenue Yard (members only, all sold out)
Evening Ride to Woodlawn Cemetery, Oct. 29, 4-9pm
Underground Inspiration: from Art to Artifact


OPEN HOUSE NEW YORK (OHNY)

OHNY, whose mission is to give New Yorkers access to noteworthy sites not normally open to us, and also increasingly to give us peeks at the process by which new projects in the city are planned and executed, has events going on around the calendar, aimed mostly (but not exclusively) at members, so keep an eye on the website and get on the mailing list. (Check here for "Upcoming Programs," and check out membership info here.)

Of course OHNY is best known for the annual OHNY Weekend, when zillions of events will be scheduled all around the city at minimal cost, setting the stage for the opening-gun melee that is OHNY registration. As I always say, the most popular events -- the ones everyone will be gunning for -- are by no means necessarily the most interesting, and the interest level is deep enough that the sane people among us can generally come away happy with our fifth or sixth choices.

So by all means mark the dates: Sat-Sun, Oct 15-16, and keep an eye on the "Weekend" page of the website (link above). The tricky thing is that the full schedule isn't announced until barely before the actual event. (a slight advance look at the schedule is members' only advantage here.)

One interesting option is to offer service as a volunteer. OHNY has just put out a "Call for Volunteers":
2016 OHNY WEEKEND
Call for Volunteers


Are you passionate about architecture, design, and history? Want to share your love for New York City with others? Open House New York invites you to join our team of more than 1,000 volunteers who help make Open House New York Weekend one of New York's most exciting events!

Every year, OHNY Weekend opens the doors of hundreds of incredible buildings and sites across the five boroughs of New York City, offering an extraordinary opportunity to experience the city and meet the people who design, build, and preserve New York. Through the unparalleled access that it enables, OHNY Weekend deepens our understanding of the importance of architecture and design to fostering a more vibrant civic life, and helps catalyze a citywide conversation about how to build a better New York.

OHNY Weekend volunteers are integral to the festival's success. Volunteers are assigned to one of more than 250 sites or tours and provide support by welcoming visitors from around New York and around the world, assisting with check-in, managing lines, and acting as a representative of Open House New York. Volunteer for one shift (typically four hours) and receive a 2016 limited edition OHNY Weekend t-shirt, as well as a volunteer button that gives you and a friend front-of-the-line access to sites that do not require reservations throughout the Weekend.

Sign up today to volunteer for Open House New York Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16, 2016! For more information visit www.ohny.org or email us at volunteer@ohny.org
(Note: As the volunteer link reminds us, OHNY is also on the lookout for volunteers for its programs year-round.)


STILL TO COME --

Myra Alperson's Noshwalks (as noted) plus a couple more tour purveyors I meant to include here.
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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Personal Cyber Security While Traveling Overseas


Packing, even for a long trip abroad, used to be so much less complicated. Recently on a trip to Russia with two friends, all of our electronics got hacked. One friend had to buy a new cell phoned another had his bank account robbed. I just had to change some passwords. And there I was admiring how St. Petersburg had wonderful free public WiFi everywhere! Cyber security expert Joseph Sternberg listed 16 Things You Must Do Before Traveling If You Want to Stay Cyber-Secure in the new issue of Inc. "Criminals," he wrote, "have been targeting travelers for as long as there have been people and roads. The modern world is no different, and, even in locations in which a person might feel physically secure, hackers and cyber-crooks might still be launching full scale attacks. As such, here are sixteen things that you should do before traveling in order to dramatically improve yours odds of avoiding a cyber-catastrophe."
1. Bring only the electronic devices that you need for the trip.

2. Obtain a "throwaway" or "high risk zone" device if you are traveling to a high risk zone for hacking-- for example, China. [Many big companies do this for their employees on company business routinely.] ... [D]o not turn on any of your normal devices in the high risk zone-- and, even better, don't bring them along for the trip in the first place.

3. Backup all of your data before leaving.

4. Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth... [and] keep them off for the duration of the trip.

5. Notify your credit card company and bank where and when you are traveling... [to] improve their chances of preventing fraudulent charges or payments made by someone local to your home who has stolen your card or account information and attempts to commit fraud while you are en route or away.

6. Notify friends, relatives, and/or coworkers... [to] reduce the likelihood that they will fall prey to social engineers and virtual kidnappers.

7. Turn on your mobile phone's lock feature.

8. Enable remote wipe (and remote lock if it exists) for all of your mobile devices.

9. Encrypt... stored sensitive data.

10. Make sure that your name and contact information are visible on your mobile devices to help anyone who finds your devices return them to you.

11. Bring your own power sources... [because] various power cables and power banks have been found to contain chips that install malware onto devices to which they are attached.

12. Make sure that you have up-to-date security software.

13. Make sure you have all the hardware and software that you will need during your trip.

14. Prepare for sale social media usage [by] turning off location tracking and any automatic check-in features running on your social media accounts.

15. Plan your data access in advance.

16. Prepare your baggage to keep your data safe [by] making sure all of your equipment containing sensitive information fits in your carry on bag [not check in luggage].
The FCC also has some generic suggestions about traveling abroad with electronic devices... and so does North Dakota State University.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Great Russian Museum In St. Petersburg That Most Tourists Never Hear About




People go to St. Petersburg to see the Hermitage and while they're there they go see St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood, the Russian Museum, Kazan Cathedral, maybe Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo. I spent two full days at the Hermitage; it's a total winner and I regret not having spent a few more days there and each of the site I just mentioned was great and totally worthwhile. But some of the things I liked most aren't on most of the "best of" lists. If you enjoy looking at contemporary art, the Erarta contemporary art museum and galleries was totally worth the trip over to Vasilievsky Island, for example.

I was lucky though because a friend with whom I share an intense interest in history had just been to Russian a couple of months before I went and he recommended one of the most wonderful off-the-beaten-track tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, the Museum of Political History. I guess it's not for everyone but it was certainly a highlight of my trip to Russia. The museum, which helps you understand the country's political history from the mid-1700's through today, is extremely successful in its mission and shockingly transparent, objective and unbiased. Housed in two co-joined mansions with great historical significance themselves, the museum is a treasure trove of Russian historical artifacts. This was Lenin's office and that was the balcony he inspired the revolution from. That was in an incredible 1906 art nouveau mansion originally built for prima ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya, a mistress of Nicholas II before he became tsar and a decade later seized by the Bolsheviks and made into their headquarters. The other mansion was the home of Vassily Brandt, one of the richest merchants in the country.

It was worth hiring a guide-- which cost next to nothing-- to take us through the museum and point out some of the highlights and help put them into context. I would say 90% of what she told us we would not have gotten without her.

There is a ton of information on the Soviet Union of course-- plenty of fascinating Stalin era exhibitions-- but great stuff on Catherine the Great, Rasputin, both World Wars, the tsars, the revolution as well. I would definitely go back for another day in this place.


Mathilda Kshesinskaya's mansion

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Role Of The Military In Turkish Politics Is About To Change... Drastically




There's virtually no part of Turkey I haven't visited since I was first there in 1969. I fell in love with the country, the people, the food, the history, the culture... when I was 21 and have been back over a dozen times, not just to the normal places people visit, like Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia, Izmir, Antalya and Bodrum, but also less-visited cities like Erdine, Trabzon, Sinop, Samsun, Kirikkale, Ezurum and Konya. On that very first trip, I drove in my VW van from one end of the country-- entering at the Bulgarian border-- all the way across Anatolia to Dogubayazit and on into Iran. Lately I may camp out at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet or the Ciragan Palace but back in those days I literally camped out, parking my van in front of some friendly family's home and sleeping in it while my passengers slept inside. I was very much an "on the ground" traveler, and my experiences were all the richer for it. (Funny what happened when you have no money.) I certainly got to know Turks more intimately and deeply than one usually does when staying at a Four Seasons.

These days, Roland and I have gotten so used to Istanbul that it does't seem odd at all for him to declare he wants to fly to Istanbul so he can do some shopping at the Grand Bazaar, the world's oldest or at least longest-lasting mall, built when Christopher Columbus was 4 years old. But it's not the same as when I was living for 2 weeks with a family in Kirikkale and they had a meal prepared for us every single time we would walk into the house. When a Turkish guy whistled at one of my passengers, a beautiful Danish girl, our host was so mortified and humiliated that he pulled out a knife and went after the whistler. Two years later when I drove back through Turkey from India, I brought them a whole set of hand-craved furniture.) Recently I was in Azerbaijan on a vacation and people were shocked I could speak so much of their language which is, basically, Turkish. The point of all this is that when I tell you that Turks have told me for 4 and a half decades that they expect the military to protect the country from political excesses, I didn't just read it in a book.

The attempted coup Friday was a bungled mess, from start to [quick] finish-- possibly even staged by Erdogan himself. From a Western perspective it had no legitimacy whatsoever-- couple: bad. Many Turks don't necessarily agree (although, significantly all the political parties, even the ones who loathe Erdogan the most, denounced the coup attempt). Right from the beginning, when soldiers were shutting down the Istanbul bridges, talking [air] heads on U.S. TV all got it wrong, seeing it through the prism of Western experience and mostly unaware that the role of the Turkish military to specifically protect a secular, non-tyrannical society is enshrined not just in Turkish tradition but in the country's foundational documents. The military takes very seriously their role as guardian of Kemal Atatürk's legacy. It didn't work out and most everyone is cheering. But this has enabled an authoritarian megalomaniac and would-be tyrant to move forward with his plans for subjugating his political rivals and transforming Turkish politics drastically.
[W]hile the bid to overthrow a democratically elected leader elicited widespread international opprobrium, many analysts fear that Erdogan will come away from the botched coup more emboldened than ever to impose his will on the country and ruthlessly root out his perceived enemies-- actions he already alluded to on Saturday.

“What is being perpetrated is a rebellion and a treason,” Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul Ataturk Airport in the wee hours of the morning. “They will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey.”

As of early Saturday, the number of arrested military personnel has already risen to an astonishing 2,839 people, including high-ranking officers-- and that figure is expected to keep growing. According to Turkey’s prime minister, 161 people were killed and 1,440 injured in the failed uprising. The military chief of staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, was rescued after forces liberated him from an air base outside of Ankara. The prime minister, Binali Yildirim, has summoned lawmakers for an emergency meeting Saturday.

Though the exact rationale for the coup effort remains unclear, the Turkish military has long viewed itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular and moderate institutions, the touchstones of the modern Turkish republic. But over the last decade, Erdogan has chipped away at those institutions by silencing dissent, expanding his grip on the judiciary, and chiseling away at the freedom of the press. Many Turkey watchers fear that Friday’s failed coup attempt will push Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies into overdrive.

“There certainly will be blood,” Andrew Bowen, a Washington-based Middle East expert and and columnist at al Arabiya, told Foreign Policy. “Erdogan will move swiftly and ruthlessly after his perceived enemies.”

If the Turkish president views his survival as a mandate to assert greater control over the country, he’ll likely start with his long-running plan to rewrite the constitution to create an executive presidency that will give him greater power at the expense of the legislature and the prime minister.

“He could arguably make the case that it wasn’t Turkey’s democratic institutions that saved Turkey’s democracy, but him,” Bowen added. “His supporters have survived this experience and arguably have been more emboldened from this experience, giving him a stronger mandate.”

That’s troubling to a number of observers who have grimaced at the dramatic changes Erdogan has brought to Turkey in recent years.

After his bloody crackdown on Gezi Park protesters in 2013, public protest has become a heroic endeavor in and of itself. Under Erdogan’s rule, hundreds of journalists have been fired from major newspapers and magazines; several are behind bars. A 2016 report from Freedom House gave Turkey a “downward arrow” for the “intense harassment of opposition members and media outlets by the government and its supporters.”

As for Turkey’s legal system, a 2015  Human Rights Watch report warned that the government “has taken unprecedented steps to exert executive control over Turkey’s judiciary, to muzzle social media, increase media and internet censorship, and prosecute journalists.”

Although Turkey’s opposition parties took a principled stand against the coup, many of them will continue to face persecution under Erdogan, especially groups like the pro-Kurdish rights party HDP, which has opposed his pursuit of an executive presidency. Kurdish civilians have literally been caught in the crossfire, suffering curfews and worse as Erdogan has intensified his military campaign against the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terrorist outfit.

The other question is what happens to the military. The group behind the coup called themselves the “Peace at Home Council,” a phrase coined by the founder of the country, Kemal Ataturk. After seizing television stations, the plotters quickly found themselves in a wider confrontation with crowds of loyalists and government supporters.

The bloated arrest list suggests Erdogan will oversee a significant shake-up of the army, even though he was careful to note that the attempted coup was not a reflection on the entire service.

“Turkish Armed Forces was not involved in the coup attempt in its entirety,” he said Saturday. “It was conducted by a clique within the armed forces and received a well-deserved response from our nation.”

Erdogan laid blame for the rebellion squarely on Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive Muslim cleric based in the United States whom Turkish officials routinely blame for fomenting unrest and dissent. But the government has not yet provided evidence of Gülen’s involvement, and the cleric denied any link to the uprising. In a statement, he condemned “in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey.” Yet, according to the BBC, 2,745 judges have already been fired due to alleged connections to Gulen.

Still, Erdogan has long been suspicious, and by some accounts, paranoid, about the threat posed by the military. Friday’s botched coup attempt will only fan those fears.

“The coup attempt sought to turn Erdogan into a Morsi,” tweeted Hassan Hassan, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “He’s now poised to become a Putin.”


So far all Trump has said about Turkey is that it was all Hillary's fault. If you're expecting Herr Trumpf to start singing Erdogan's praises, you might have to wait a while. He hates Trump and two weeks ago demanded the name "Trump" be removed" from Trump Towers Istanbul. In a discussion of Islamophobia, Erdogan told a Chamber of Commerce type meeting that Trump "has no tolerance for Muslims living in the US. And on top of that they used a brand in [Istanbul] with his name. The ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it. That was Turkish billionaire Aydın Doğan he was calling out. It's not unlike what I saw happening more organically in Baku last month where a powerful and criminal Azerbaijani billionaire screwed himself by branding his new (now-closed down) glitzy tower with Trump's toxic name.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Follow-up: NYC to D.C. and back in under 22 hours


It's like you need binoculars -- to see from one end of the Russell Senate Office Building to the other. And it's not as if the subsequently added Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings are exactly petite.

by Ken

Yesterday's trip to Washington was a resounding success -- and never mind that the famous 3am train out of NYC's Penn Station left more than half an hour late, and chugged into D.C.'s Union Station a full hour and half late. "Mechanical problems" is all we were told the first time as well as the two subsequent times that the Train That Didn't Seem Like It Could went into hibernation. What me worry? After all, I had a three-hour cushion built into my schedule, even if in truth I never really imagined having half of it eaten up.

On the plus side, however, the thunderstorms that the forecasters had insisted were planned for the area were apparently called off, if not the 90-plus temps under those unexpectedly beautiful blue skies. Not a drop of rain was encountered until, on the cheap-bus trip back (at something like a third of the advance-purchase senior fare for the train trip down) at about the latitude of the Lincoln Tunnel we drove into a deluge.

There's so much I'd love to talk about, but I don't want to try readers' patience, so let me just say that with so much time to fill than I'd planned for before Francis Morrone's "Monumental Washington in the 1930s and 1940s")walking tour for the National Civic Art Society, the reason for the trip, which turned out to be one of the best I've done with Francis, which is saying a lot -- my goodness, the seemingly effortless command of so many different kinds of riveting material! Anyway, the trip was indeed accomplished in under 22 hours door to door (heading out at 1:25am and trudging back in about 11:15pm).

With so much less time than I'd imagined for pre-tour wandering, I just headed south from Union Station, after taking in its brackets to the west (the handsome old post office that now serves as the National Postal Museum) and east (the vaguely modern Federal Judiciary Center named for one of my heroes, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall). Meaning that I got to see, up close and personal, such sights as the cluster of Senate office buildings, starting -- in my ass-backwards route -- with Hart and only later, after strolling around the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress (not just the original, resplendent Jefferson building but the across-the-streets Adams and Madison), catching up with Dirksen and (gasp!) the palatial Russell (opened in 1909 and named for slimy Georgia Sen. Richard Russell in 1972). You almost need binoculars to see from one end of it to the other. Yikes!

Even though I've ridden past a lot of official D.C. buildings, I was still taken back -- taking them in at leisure on foot -- by the sheer scale of them. No wonder people who find their way to Washington with some kind of official title go kind of nuts! Of course, as Francis Morrone would point out later on our tour of the museums built in the '30s and '40s along the Constitution Avenue side of the Mall as well as the vast complex of government buildings that began taking shape at the same time in what became known as the Federal Triangle, across Constitution Avenue, that since buildings in Washington couldn't be built tall, in order to provide any decent amount of working space you had to build big, footprint-wise.

Still, I wasn't prepared for the megatastic size of the Supreme Court digs. I was thinking, you know, so you need nine suites, each containing a decent enough office for the boss, plus room for desks and files for the clerks. In actuality, though, it looks like you could provide office space for all the judges in the Americas and still have room for amenities like a video viewing space and maybe a nice rec room with Ping-Pong tables.


Can Justice Clarence come out and play? You can't begin to imagine from this view -- from all the way up top of the Capitol dome -- just how ginormous the Supreme Court building is.

While I was outside the Supreme Court palace, once I found the entrance (imagine my surprise to discover that the grandiloquent side I encountered first on my backwards route, facing 2nd Street N.E., is the back!), I had to fight the urge to shout out something like "Can Justice Clarence come out and play?" Yes, I know that on a Saturday morning in July you wouldn't expect to find a Supreme Court justice at the office, but I was thinking that Justice Clarence can never get too early a start preparing all those questions he'll be asking in next term's oral arguments.
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Friday, July 08, 2016

So I'm D.C.-bound -- all I have to do is catch my 3am train


The great John Russell Pope's National Archives Building (1931-35), one of the landmarks mentioned in Francis Morrone's description for tomorrow's "Monumental Washington in the 1930s and 1940s" tour for the National Civic Art Society

by Ken

As long-time DWT readers may recall, Howie is my oldest friend in terms of continuous service -- dating back to the 9th grade at the James Madison HS Annex on the top floor of a public school way the hell on the other side of Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. Long-time readers will also have heard more than once from both of us about our 9th-grade English teacher, Mr. Fulmer, one of the great influences on both our lives. Mr.Fulmer was wont to say pithy things like "In a thousand years we'll all be dead, and all that will matter is our record of truth and beauty," or to point out helpfully, whenever a hapless student would say unthinkingly, "I think that . . . .," that "That's not thinking."

Now you may think, especially if you're not conversant with the math that includes our ages, that 9th-grade isn't going back all that far as friendships go. Certainly not among the kids I encountered growing up, when my family seemed to move every couple of years (if not oftener), either within cities or, a couple of times, from city to city, so that every couple of years (if not oftener) I found myself standing alone on the playground of a new school among kids who'd been going to school together their whole lives.

Still, from this vantage point of antiquity, a continuous friendship dating back to the 9th grade and Mr. Fulmer counts for something. Warning: You don't want to get him started on our 10th-grade English teacher, Miss Kliegman, who still comes up fairly regularly in our conversations. And so maybe it's not entirely beside the point that you encounter us both, all these years later, in the act of shoving words around.

Our more obvious connection, which long-time readers will also have noted, is political and worldviewish. For all our differences, I am still regularly startled by how similarly we respond to Stuff That Happens Out There in the World -- the way our attention tends to be caught by the same events and our responses tend to be so similar.

Possibly factoring into the above (or possibly not) is that Howie is the only friend I've ever had who's as geography- and map-obsessed as I am. Again, our geographical, er, styles are different. He's the one who, as he has chronicled here a number of times, set out one summer for the Pacific island kingdom of Tonga. No, he didn't get there, but for a high school kid getting across our native continent was no small deal. Not to mention that you would never in a lifetime find me doing any "setting out for" of that sort.

And again, long-time readers will have glimpsed that difference in our recorded travel adventures. Howie is the one who, with his grueling health crisis still clearly visible in the rear-view mirror, planned and executed a several-weeks' expedition to Russia with a side swing to Azerbaijan. (I wish you could have heard the hair-raising stories of just the adventures in visa-hunting he and especially his friend and frequent travel companion Roland underwent for this trip.)

Whereas my traveling is done mostly via armchair -- most happily in the happy company of Michael Palin on DVD. And, of course, the urban gadding that has become my latter-years evening and weekend preoccupation -- most always in day-trip form, and almost invariably within the geographic boundaries of NYC.

Which is a prelude to explaining why I'm not tackling one of my customary "serious" blog topics (that's right, the depredations of Next Food Network Star will have to await another occasion) today, as I prepare for a journey that will respect my "day trip" boundary but not the geographic one. 'Cause I'm busting out of the Greater NYC area -- all the way to Our Nation's Capital. And I'm doing it on a 3am train out of Penn Station. (Shudder.)

True, the impetus is local-ish. Which is to say that one of my most cherished walking-tour leaders, Francis Morrone, mentioned not long ago during a Municipal Art Society tour that he was going to be doing a tour in Washington on July 9. He didn't say any more, and I didn't ask, but after letting the thing percolate in my head awhile, I finally decided to try to track it down online, and track it down I did -- to the final event in a series, "Classical Architecture, Classical Values," offered by the National Civic Art Society:
Tour V, Saturday July 9

V. Monumental Washington in the 1930s and 1940s. Classicism in the era of Modernism.

We will explore works from the 1930s and 1940s--when the Modern Movement was in the ascendant--by such architects as Arthur Brown Jr., York and Sawyer, William Adams Delano, Milton Medary, and especially John Russell Pope (National Gallery, National Archives, Jefferson Memorial), with a big tip of the hat to the relatively unsung Otto Eggers and Daniel Higgins. Along the way we'll note other things, including, for context, later works by I.M.Pei and Partners and Pei Cobb Freed. Please note that this is an outdoor tour only. We'll leave the glorious interiors en route for another day.

The tour meets at 10 AM at the intersection of Constitution Ave. NW and 6th St. NW.
Again, it took me a bit of time to process this information, and discover that I had a conflict with a Brooklyn Brainery event I'd already registered for, "Blintzes, Malaysian Peanut Pancakes, and the Many Faces of Crepes" with Jonathan Soma (half of the great Masters of Social Gastronomy team, with Sarah Lohman; they have a slew of interesting-looking events planned for July and August), part of Soma's BB Summer of Pancakes series. However, as I'm a bit embarrassed to note, I quickly recalled that Brooklyn Brainery, in addition to offering interesting programs at eye-catchingly low prices, actually allows you to cancel events, and I did just that. (I just checked, and tomorrow's class is sold out, so maybe the Brooklyn Brainery folks aren't as naive as we might think, allowing registrants to cancel with enough advance notice. I'm delighted to see that my ruthlessly abandoned slot hasn't gone to waste! And I've still got my place on the 19th for Soma's "Going All-in on American Pancakes," which I see is also sold out. I don't plan on canceling that one.)

From there the details fell into place in rapid order. I had no trouble booking my spot for Francis's tour.(I guess the D.C. folks don't know about him. In NYC, that tour would probably have been sold out within days of being announced), for a measly 15 smackers. Of course adding in carfare hiked the total trip cost a bit: $74.80 (advance-purchase senior fare) for a train down, then a mere $23 for one of those cheap-cheap Chinatown-bassd buses back in the evening. I've taken the cheap-cheap bus before, and would have done so for the trip down if there's been a bus that would enable me to get to the tour meeting point by 10am, but there wasn't -- not even close.

And even the Amtrak scheduling was tricky. There's a 6am train that's scheduled to arrive in Union Station at 9:30am, and judging by the map, that should leave me enough time to make my tour -- that is, assuming I have such faith in Amtrak's on-time performance. Not to mention the consideration that I only theoretically know how to get from my Point A to Point B, and I would spend every second of every minute today all the way through boarding and then all the way on train obsessing over the time. So I swallowed hard and instead of booking the 6am train pulled the trigger for the 3am one, due into Union Station at 6:30am. Meaning that, once I'm on the train, nothing short of a derailment (a possibility one can't ever entirely discount) should prevent me from making the rendezvous with Francis. (Who, incidentally, has no idea that I'll be there. I've done at least one MAS tour with him since I made all these plans, and thought I would find a way to drop it into conversation, but I didn't. It should at least be interesting to note his response to seeing me amidst the tour group.

So today, in addition to planning everything around the 3am train departure, I'm occupied with finishing my research and resource planning, including printing up all sorts of Google maps, including locations of local ATMs of my bank and gym branches that my membership card should get me into. (In addition to not wanting to skip a day at the gym, I'm inclined to have some possible indoor activities in my arsenal. Not at all to my surprise, thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow.) I thought I could piggyback some serious apartment decluttering in the form of a frantic hunt for my buried D.C. street atlas and aging Time Out guide, but wouldn't you know, I found both of them almost as soon as I started looking. Of all the luck!)

So you'll see why I don't have time today to prattle on about, say, the Supreme Court, or the wide-screen version of Gilmore Girls I'm now a mere two episodes away from finishing on UP. What's more, I"ve got another crossing-state-lines day trip planned for next month, built around an event my college alumni people have planned at Connecticut's Mystic Seaport, which I've heard about much of my life but have never visited. Highlighting the festivities, one of our distinguished English professors will be offering a presentation on "The Myth and Legend of Moby Dick," so part of my adventure will be finally reading Moby-Dick. (Yes, I was supposed to have read an abridged version -- in, I think, Miss Kliegman's 10th-grade English class. But there are a lot of things I was supposed to have read that I haven't.)


[For a follow-up, see below.]
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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Visiting Azerbaijan-- Some Basics

See the dancing cave drawing over my head?

Two of my favorite congressmen advised me on my trip to Azerbaijan-- and one did even more than that, which I'll explain in a moment. The other congressman urged me to visit a statue in Baku of the current president's father, the former president (dictator), Heydar Aliyev. Statues of human beings are rare in Muslim-majority countries to begin with; it's something the religion proscribes, but Azerbaijan is a very secular country and there are statues of admired people all over. This particular one of Papa Aliyev depicts him sitting with one leg crossed and the sole of his shoe partially showing. Showing the sole of a shoe is generally perceived as an insult because the feet are often seen as unclean and shoes are always removed before entering a mosque or a home. My congressional friend told me he had asked his guide at the time if the statue was somewhat offensive to the Muslim population? The guide said yes, that was the point, to show that Azerbaijan's government is secular even though over 90% of the population is Muslim. Blunt-- but dictatorial oligarchs can be that way-- and often are.


Heydar Aliyev shows the soles of his shoe


The other congressman urged me to go see Gobustan (prehistoric caves, a nearby museum and, in the same region, Azerbaijan's famous mud volcanoes), the ancient Zoroastrian Atashgah Fire Temple in Surakhani, and Yanar Dag (the burning mountainside). We went to all of them and it was a much better use of time than just hanging around Baku (or Moscow).

Gobustan is about 40 miles southwest of Baku and we hired a taxi to take us there. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, primarily because of its easily-accessible caves with their rock art engravings showing life in prehistoric times, some dating back 40,000 years.

Azerbaijan has hundreds of mud volcanoes and I have a feeling the few dozen we saw might not have been the most impressive ones. They were hard to get to-- no paved roads-- and not really erupting, more like bubbling and burping out mud. Every twenty years or so one of them really explodes shooting fire and mud hundreds of feet into the air. So far, this wasn't one of those years. But we did get to climb around the hillocks and Roland dipped his hands into the bubbling mud.



The Atashgah Fire Temple is very close to Baku, a site dated as far back as 730 AD but destroyed and rebuilt several times since. What we saw was a pentagonal complex from the 17th century, which has a courtyard surrounded by cells for pilgrims and monks and a fire alter structure in the middle. It's the principal Zoroastrian site of pre-Islamic Azerbaijan and the guide I hired made sure to tell me that famous Zoroastrians included Indira Gandhi, Freddie Mercury, Zubin Mehta and Meher Baba.

Yanar Dag was kind of a dud. It's a not especially impressive natural gas fire that burns eternally on the side of a hill and I was mixing it up in my mind with a similar but bigger phenomenum in Derweze, Turkmenistan, on the other side of the Caspian Sea, east of Azerbaijan, called the Gates of Hell.

Not many American tourists go to Azerbaijan. We nearly didn't ourselves. But our trip to Russia looked like we had planned on too many days in Moscow-- even with a trip to the Golden Ring towns of Vladimir and Suzdal-- so we decided on a side trip to Baku. It's not very far by plane and Azerbaijan has a good airline with new, well-maintained planes and it's relatively inexpensive-- both the plane flights and everything in the city itself. But it isn't easy to get to because of the visa situation. You have to have a visa and Azerbaijan inadvertantly-- I think inadvertently-- makes it difficult by channeling would-be tourists to Travisa, a private company/middleman that "helps" travelers get visas. Except they don't. They just charge a inordinate amount of money and get in the way, making it more difficult to get the visas. I had a nightmare experience with them once before-- when I was forced to use them for an Indian visa-- and I would never voluntarily use them.

When you want a Russian visa, you have no choice any longer except to go through one of these "helpful" contractors, Invisa Logistics Service (ILS), although scammers like Travisa are happy to charge you for sending your application on to ILS. When you apply for an Azerbaijani visa, there is a strong implication that there is a similar mandate and that you must go through Travisa, an implication that Travisa doesn't discourage. When I tried getting my Azerbaijani visa through Travisa, nothing worked and lots of time was wasted. They also kept trying to get me to give them money with the warning that if I couldn't get the visa for any reason-- which looked likely judging by their jaw-dropping incompetence-- they still kept the money. Excuses ranged from their online application doesn't work with Apple computers to I can't use their in-office computer-- after they asked me to drive to their office to do just that-- because they couldn't give me the pass code for their WiFi network because of "security." I decided to give up and go to Georgia or Armenia instead when someone who overheard my conversation with the unhelpful staffer who was guaranteeing I couldn't go to Azerbaijan, told me to just go to the Azerbaijan consulate in L.A. and that it would be faster and cheaper. And it was. And easy as pie. That's your free tip of the day. Get your visa directly from the Azerbaijan consulate and skip the Travisa horror show.

Roland, meanwhile, had his passport tied up in the regular Travisa hell-- weeks and weeks of complete nonsense and wasted time. Like, two weeks wasted on "you have to change the name of your hotel from the Leningrad Hotel to the St. Petersburg Hotel." But the name of the hotel is the Leningrad Hotel. It doesn't matter. You can't get a visa if you write you're going to a hotel named for Lenin. His application and passport went back and forth across the country three times before we realized there was no way he could get the Russian visa done in time to also get the Azerbaijani visa. That's where it's helpful to have a good congressman. For a civilian it's impossible-- in takes a minimum of 10days-- but for a congressman asking for a constituent... it takes a few hours. Roland got his visa just hours before he departed and off we went... to a country with the good sense to not patronize a glitzy, gaudy new Trump Tower that was forced to close down in less than a week due to lack of business.


There's a mosque between my hotel and the funicular