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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Can Music Change The World... In Morocco?

It's very rare that I meet a Moroccan who has traveled more extensively through his country than I have. I started going there in 1969-- drove a van from Germany and went all over the country, from the northeastern kif-growing regions of the Rif down to Marrakech and Essaouira. After a dozen trips, I've long since lost count. But I've expanded my horizons and have traveled way south of Marrakech, from Tiznit and Sidi Ifni in the West to Ouarzazate, Zagora and M'Hamid on the edge of the Sahara sand dunes. And, yeah, we even headed out across the Sahara towards Timbuktu by camel... although we didn't get very far and eventually got to now-inaccessible, rebel-held Timbuktu a few years ago by jeep... from Bamako.

Anyway, I've been almost everywhere in the country and I really love it-- and always recommend it. And Morocco has always been especially alluring for bohemians, rebels, and misfits, including, of course, musicians. The first time I was in Essaouira it was with Jimi Hendrix. Many years later I was relaxing in the courtyard of an old friend in Tangier-- someone who had first introduced me to Gnaouia music-- when I realized that the courtyard was pictured in the Steel Wheels album. That's because they recorded part of it in 1989 right where I was sitting. But this weekend the Washington Post ran a story about musical trouble in the magic kingdom. With the Tuaregs in control of the Malian Sahara now, kidnapping tourists and enslaving anyone they can get their hands on, Morocco's music festivals aren't going to have any more competition from the Festival au Désert. But that doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing.
Morocco’s glittering Mawazine international music festival wraps up this weekend with performances by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, after nine days of showcasing the North African kingdom’s cool factor-- even as dissident Moroccan musicians are imprisoned for their anti-establishment lyrics.

The 11-year-old “Rhythms of the World” festival in the capital Rabat has always highlighted Morocco’s contradictions as the country spends millions to lure top world artists to perform at generally free concerts, while much the country remains mired in poverty.

In past years the festival has been attacked by Islamists for inviting gay performer Elton John in 2010 and by activists for the cost of attracting Shakira and other high profile acts in 2011, but this year the theme of protest is freedom of expression.

Just a week before the festival began, Human Rights Watch slammed Morocco for sentencing a rapper to a year in prison for lyrics deemed insulting to police-- a common theme in rap music elsewhere in the world.

“Morocco hosts one famous international music festival after another each spring, but meanwhile it imprisons one of its own singers solely because of lyrics and images that displease the authorities,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Mideast director of the group said in a statement. “Morocco should be known as a haven for world music, not for locking up singers with a political message.”

Moroccan rapper Mouad Belghouat, known as El-Haqed, or “The Enraged” was convicted on May 11 of “showing contempt” to public servants with his song “Dogs of the State” about police corruption. He is known for his political activism and vitriolic songs attacking social injustice, the monarchy and corruption.

A week later, dissident poet Youssef Belkhdim was convicted of attacking police-- a charge he denies-- at a sit-in he organized in support of Belghouat and sentenced to two years in prison.

The two men belonged to Morocco’s pro-democracy February 20 movement that last year brought tens of thousands into the streets protesting corruption and calling for political reform.

The extravagant sums spent on the Mawazine have been a mainstay of the movement’s slogans. Festival organizers maintain that the Mawazine’s estimated $7 million price tag is worth it because it improves Morocco’s image abroad and gives people at home access to music from around the world. The festival is funded largely by corporate sponsors with strong ties to the state.

“It’s a celebration. It’s a celebration of the city, a celebration of Morocco and it reflects a bit Morocco’s good life to the world,” said program director Mahmoud Lemseffer. “It is a vehicle to present the image of our country, of its hospitality and tolerance.”

Tens of thousands attend each of the festival’s eight venues which present Arabic music, Moroccan music, music from sub-Saharan Africa as well as international acts, which this year included Evanescence, the Scorpions, Gloria Gaynor, Nigel Kennedy and Jimmy Cliff.

Most of the acts have free sections open to the public and on Tuesday, families strolling along Rabat’s Bouregreg river stopped to listen to Beninian songstress Angelique Kidjo belt out classics from South African diva Mariam Makebe and talk about the struggle against apartheid.

But for critics, there is irony in punishing artists at home while hosting international ones known for their support of freedom of expression. Lenny Kravitz, for instance, has striven in song after song to confront America’s tortured attitude about race.

“I think that people should really say what they feel-- everybody has the right to speak their mind, you see how things change in places where people were once condemned,” said Kravitz at a press conference Thursday when asked about politics in music. “When I was in Brazil a couple of years ago, I was talking with (musician and activist) Caetano Veloso who dealt with that same thing, who did jail time-- and now he has made a difference.”

Salif Traore of the Ivorian band Magic System said that for African artists, speaking truth to power and freedom of expression is what their music is all about.

“We in Africa, we say that artists, musicians and singers are the eyes, ears, and mouths of the people,” he told The Associated Press, when asked about his views on the El-Haqed case.

Rachid el-Belghiti, who heads a national anti-Mawazine campaign, also contests the government’s assertion that it’s supporting culture in Morocco with this festival, countering that it’s really just about making the country look good abroad.

He said the Mawazine, which is run by a close confidant of King Mohammed VI, eats up the lion’s share of corporate sponsorship so that little is left for other festivals around the country.

As millions are being spent to lure in big name acts, local theaters and dance schools around the country are closing down because of a lack of funding.

“A country which puts its artists in prison simply for expressing themselves with their voice or their instruments cannot pretend to support culture,” he said. “That’s impossible.”

And, by the way, the Rabat music festival is totally commercial and strictly for squares and the one-percent. The hipster festivals are the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira and the newer Festival des Musiques Sacrées du Monde in Fez. When the king is finally overthrown, the last bastion before he flees to one of his European estates will be Rabat.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

NYC-- A Meal In The East Village

I didn't set out to relive my childhood. I was just going to meet Ken, a childhood friend (the guy who writes about the Gadabouts), for dinner. I had arrived the night before-- just in time for dinner at my favorite New York restaurant, Pure Food and Wine (on Irving Place in Gramercy Park). Ken isn't into vegetarian, vegan, health food or anything like that. So we met the next night and had decided to pick a restaurant from among our favorite Food Network celebrity chefs' restaurants... or his. I ate at Iron Chef Cat Cora's place in the Houston Airport on a layover coming back from the Yucatan last December and it was so abysmal that I would have been perfectly content to never eat in another Food Network star's restaurant again. But Ken gave me a choice between Geoffrey Zakarian's Lamb's Club, a Mark Murphy restaurant and Alex Guarnaschelli's Butter.

I immediately mixed Mark up with Scott Conant, who is an anti-health fanatic so I didn't even bother to look at Murphy's restaurants online. In any case, my favorite Chopped chef is Zakarian, who I think is the most interesting chef between the three. Ken suggested the Lamb's Club and I was leaning in that direction until I saw the menu online, which didn't look very vegan-friendly or health conscious at all. So, by default, it was Butter, in the midst of their 10th anniversary celebrations. Aside from seeing Ken, the best part of the experience was getting there. It's in the East Village, just off St. Mark's Place, where I spent years in the '60s working and playing. The area was like a second home to me. But, my God, it's so changed now. Not just blights like Starbuck's, there was even a Pinkberry's... right on St. Mark's itself. It's funny how wide-eyed tourists are drawn to "exotic" seedy places-- like the East Village-- and then want to make it comfortable for themselves by transforming it into places that cater to people who go for the Pinkberries. It's always that way. But this was my one and only childhood we're talking about here-- where I scored my first weed and where I saw every Velvet Underground performance at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable at the Dom.

And just down the street and around the corner down from Cooper Square on Lafayette is Butter. It's across the street and half a block up from the Astor Place Theater or Playhouse (434 Lafayette Street), another place where I spent an inordinate amount of time. It was 1965 and I was a freshman at Stony Brook, president of the freshman class and I got turned on to the subversive musical missing link between the beatniks and the hippies, The Fugs. I escaped from Suffolk County at every opportunity and hung out at Fugs shows. I hired them for the Freshman Class dance. They got the joke. The captain of the [some sport] team, Bob O'Connor, didn't and threatened to beat me up when his girlfriend was subjected to "kill For Peace" and "Boobs A Lot." That was the first time I was ever aware of having met a Republican. A year or so later I wound up in a jail cell with Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, (+ Doctor Spock and Allen Ginsberg) for protesting the War in Vietnam. But I never really looked at the plaque on the building housing the Astor Place Theater-- now the home to some Las Vegas commercial enterprise for suburbanites called the Blue Man Group-- until I was waiting for Ken to arrive for our dinner at Butter .

It's more than just a childhood memory for me. Turns out it's an historic landmark for everyone. The building, once 9 row houses on the most exclusive street in Manhattan, only has 4 attached houses remaining. It still looks awesome architecturally. It's a Greek revival building-- known both as Colonnade Row and LaGrange Terrace-- from the 1830s and built by Seth Greer in honor of the Marquis de La Fayette's estate, La Grange, in France. It-- the NYC place currently occupied by the Blue Men-- was once home to John Jacob Astor, an opium smuggler and America's first bona fide multimilionaire. Other residents of the swanky 26-room homes included Washington Irving, Cornelius Vanderbilt and President John Tyler. The street was a cul-de-sac back in the day (theirs, not mine).

Dinner was OK. Ken loved it in fact. My appetizer was among the best-prepared octopus I've ever tried, grilled with harissa, served over a orange and marcona almond allade with heirloom potatoes. Worthy of the long walk downtown. My entree, grilled salmon was far less successful, nothing to complain about but nothing remotely special either. Would I go back? Probably not. New York is filled with better places, although this, unlike Cat Cora's place in the Houston Airport, is certainly a good restaurant.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Good News On Getting Visas To Visit America-- And Bad News About That Trip You Always Wanted To Take To Timbuktu

I tend to write more about traveling to places like Nepal, Mali and Afghanistan and Tierra del Fuego and Ken writes more about walking tours here in America. I bet the Obama Administration would be a lot happier with Ken's perspective than with mine. They just announced a national strategy to increase travel and tourism in the U.S. and they're aiming for 100 million visitors a year by 2021. The strategy is actually a blueprint for expanding travel to and within the country. It sets out a goal of increasing American jobs by attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021, more than a 50% increase over the number expected this year. They estimate that these international visitors would spend something like $250 billion per year, creating jobs and spurring economic growth in communities across the country.
“Tens of millions of tourists from all over the world come and visit America every year. They stay in our hotels, they eat at our restaurants, they visit our attractions, and they help create jobs. At a time when too many Americans are still looking for work, we need to make it easier for more people to visit this country and keep our economy growing,” said President Obama.
The U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP, exports, and employment. Efforts to make America the top tourist destination in the world offer a tremendous opportunity to create jobs and strengthen the U.S. economy. In 2011, the travel and tourism industry generated $1.2 trillion from domestic and international travel and supported 7.6 million jobs-- with international travel to the United States resulting in a record $153 billion in receipts and supporting 1.2 million jobs. The Commerce Department recently released a travel and tourism forecast projecting that the U.S. can expect 4-5% average annual growth in tourism over the next five years, and that 65.4 million foreign travelers are projected to visit the U.S. in 2012 alone.

There are a number of the ways they're hoping to increase tourism from other countries. They're all worked up over Brand USA, a non-profit organization created by the Travel Promotion Act that is charged with promoting foreign travel to this country, which is now running its first set of international marketing campaigns to promote the U.S. as a travel destination abroad. The first targets are Canada, Japan, and the U.K. and are the next planned are for South Korea and Brazil. Interesting they would mention Brazil, which has had a longstanding dispute with the U.S. about cumbersome visa policies. And, sure enough, our Nobel Peace Prize winning president may not have ended the war in Afghanistan yet but he is ending the visa war with Brazil!
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is the flagship of our international tourism strategy. Over 60 percent of all overseas travelers to the United States are from VWP countries. In 2010, these travelers generated over $60 billion in annual tourism revenue. While the VWP remains the largest travel facilitation program, the Obama Administration is also committed to easing travel for the approximately 40 percent of international travelers who currently require visas to enter the United States. Building on the progress made over the past several years and in response to the President’s Executive Order, the Obama Administration is facilitating legitimate travel to America while maintaining security by:
·         Supporting Legislative Improvements to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Obama Administration supports and is committed to working with Congress on legislation to strengthen and expand VWP eligibility to nations with low visa refusal rates and rapidly growing economies, consistent with national security requirements. 
·         Increasing Arrivals. Comparing the first six months of fiscal year 2012 to the first six months of fiscal year 2011, arrivals of travelers using the Visa Waiver Program have increased by 8 percent and arrivals of travelers from China and Brazil have increased by 33 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Total non-immigrant admissions, which consists of admissions of travelers who are not U.S. citizens or returning residents, have increased by 4.5 percent during the same period.
·         Shortening Visa Interview Wait Times. Around the world, wait times for visa interviews are generally short, and have dropped dramatically in some of the busiest travel markets where demand for visas is highest. Now, travelers currently wait less than one week for an appointment at U.S. consulates in China, less than one week in the Brazilian cities of Brasilia, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro, and 30 days or less in São Paulo. In anticipation of the summer travel season, the Department of State is adding staff and streamlining its operations to continue to keep visa interview wait times low. 

·         Streamlining the Visa Process. A new pilot program now underway at the Department of State to streamline visa processing will free up more interview slots for first-time applicants and allow consular officers to more effectively spend their time evaluating higher-risk visa applicants. Consular officers may waive in-person interviews for certain low-risk, qualified individuals, such as those renewing their visas within 48 months of the expiration of their previous visas, and Brazilian applicants below the age of 16 and age 66 and older. Consular officers retain the authority to interview any applicant in any category if security or other concerns are present.

·         Building Capacity in China and Brazil to Meet Demand. The Department of State is investing approximately $68 million in 2012 on existing facilities in Brazil and $22 million in China – adding interview windows, expanding consular office space, and improving waiting areas. President Obama has recently announced that the United States will establish consulates in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre, Brazil, while major expansion projects are underway in China.
·         Increasing Consular Staffing and Implementing Innovative Hiring Programs. To address immediate growth in demand and ensure that the United States can continue to offer timely visa services to qualified applicants, the Department of State is doubling the number of diplomats performing consular work in China and Brazil over the next year. Similarly, the first group of newly hired consular adjudicators recently arrived at U.S. consulates in Brazil and China. These adjudicators were hired under a program targeting recruits who already speak Portuguese or Mandarin.
Almost a million people a day enter the U.S. There will be a need for a lot more walking tour guides as time goes on. And, as far as Mali... even more dangerous than Arizona. We're advising anyone even thinking about visiting Mali to change plans and go to Bali... or Maui. The political crisis isn't getting any better. Most of the country-- including Timbuktu-- is now closed to tourism entirely. The crisis in Mali is actually existential.
When last year's initially nonviolent uprising in Libya against the Gaddafi regime turned to armed struggle, resulting in even greater government repression and thereby prompting NATO intervention, disparate armed groups-- including Tuareg tribesmen-- ended up liberating major stores of armaments. These vast caches of weapons were passed on to Tuaregs in Mali who, now having the means to effectively challenge the Malian government militarily, resumed their long-dormant rebellion under the leadership of National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

Charging that the civilian government was not being tough enough against the rebels, U.S.-trained Army Captain Amadou Sanogo and other officers staged a coup on March 22 and called for U.S. intervention along the lines of Afghanistan and the "war on terror."

Sanogo's training in the United States is just one small part of a decade of U.S. training of armies in the Sahel, increasing the militarization of this impoverished region and the influence of armed forces relative to civilian leaders. Gregory Mann, writing in Foreign Policy, notes how "a decade of American investment in special forces training, co-operation between Sahalien armies and the United States and counter-terrorism programs of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds."

...Tuareg rebels, taking advantage of the political divisions in the capital, consolidated their hold on the northern part of the country by capturing its remaining towns and declaring an independent state. The MNLA's victories also led various Islamist militias, including extremists allied with Al-Qaeda, to seize a number of towns and impose their rigid ideological agenda... [E]xtremist Islamic militias in the north, taking advantage of the country's chaos, have reportedly been destroying historic shrines and other cultural landmarks they consider idolatrous in Timbuktu and other northern cities.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Urban Gadabout: Jane's Walks NYC reminder (May 5-6)

by Ken

One last reminder that the Municipal Art Society has coordinated a bumper crop of 70-plus walks (plus a few bike tours) in all five boroughs for Saturday and Sunday's annual celebration of Jane Jacobs's vision of the livable city. The complete list is here, with start and finish points, and presumably any changes will be noted on the website.

Without exaggeration I must have noted at least 40 walks I would be happy to do. I finally settled on one relatively remote destination for each day, in the two least-accessed boroughs: to Staten Island Saturday for "New Dorp: Possibilities for Walkability and Transit in a Railway 'New Village'" (10:30am-1pm), and to the Bronx Sunday for "The Unknown Riverdale" (12n-2pm). I'll be reporting on my travels, and would love to hear about readers'.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Urban Gadabout: Thanks to tour guide Justin Ferate, I'll finally get inside the Mark Twain House (and other places). Plus: Jane's Walks this weekend!

This video conveys a certain sense of one-of-a-kind tour leader Justin Ferate, but really not much of his irresistible enthusiasm or unflagging ebullience or considerable funniness -- even, for that matter, the sheer range of knowledge he brings to bear on seemingly every subject.

by Ken

There's a fair amount of exciting news to share with the gadaboutishly (or armchair-gadaboutishly) inclined, but one piece of that news has set me to recalling the time a couple of decades ago when I walked up to, but wasn't able to go in, the Mark Twain House in Hartford, under curious circumstances I'd just as soon not go into. But I've always felt deprived, and in a couple of weeks I'm going to get to do something about it. More about this in a moment.

Now that the May Municipal Art Society walking-tour listings are available, one of the first things that caught my eye is one being led by Justin Ferate, "Hildreth Meière Exhibition Tour" (Sunday, May 20, 9:45am-12:30pm, members $25/nonmenbers $35, including museum admission), a tour of the exhibition at "the remarkable jewel-like exhibition" at the Museum of Biblican Art of "the renowned and versatile Art Deco muralist and mosaicist," who
during her career completed over 100 projects that were evenly split between the secular and religious. She left her mark on New York City’s vast landscape, including the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Radio City Music Hall, the truly striking Red Mosaic Banking Room at One Wall Street, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

The first tour I did with Justin was an unusual-for-MAS all-day trek to the southernmost tip of Staten Island, Tottenville, and it remains one of my most memorable tours. (I acutally went back to Tottenville! And in fact wrote about the return to Tottenville in a pair of Jun 2011 Urban Gadabout pieces, before and after: "To the end of the island (Staten) -- I'm headed back to Tottenville (weather permitting)" on the 24th and "Back from Tottenville" on the 25th.)


That got me to looking at the tour schedule on Justin's own website, Justin Ferate's Tours of the City (, a treasure trove of resources and links, where I was delighted to find a group of tours offered with the Wolfe Walkers (a group new to me; you can download their spring tour brochure here, including the registration form) -- so deliighted that an hour or two later I had a check in the mail for three of them:

Mark Twain House and Hill-Stead House & Museum ( bus and walking tour, Sunday, May 13, all day; $115)

Morris-Jumel Mansion and the Hispanic Society in America (Saturday, May 26, 1-4:30pm; $25 with $3 early-registration discount, including all admissions)

Broad Channel (Queens) and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Saturday, June 2, 1-4:30pm, not including travel time to and from Howard Beach; offered with Don Riepe, official Jamaica Bay Guardian; $25 with $3 early-registration discount, including all admissions)
(Registration is by mail using the downloadable form. For the early-registration discount, the registration has to be received a week before the tour. There's no discount on bus tours.)

Jamaica Bay: with "mainland" Queens to the north, Brooklyn
to the west, and the Rockaway Peninsula to the south

Obviously, the bus and walking tour that includes the Mark Twain House was a no-brainer for me. But I was almost as excited about the through Broad Channel into the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

It may help if you understand that you're dealing here with someone who actually thrilled at the prospect of taking a NY harbor cruise that would venture into the waters of Newark Bay, as I wrote here last July, in "Newark Bay or bust! (Is there anyone else whose pulse is sent racing by the prospect?." For how many years had I stared at NYC maps with the vast expanse of water indicated as Jamaica Bay (yes, that's JFK Airport to the northeast of the bay on the map), wondering what it could be like? Eventually I discovered that the version of the A train that carries passengers to the Rockaways actually crosses the whole length of the bay, still perhaps my favorite ride in the NYC subway system, and one I still do fairly regularly. (Actually, I still remember my first subway maps, which indicated that Rockaway-bound passengers had to pay an extra 5 cents.)


"The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations."
-- Jane Jacobs, in The Death and Life of Great American
, the epigraph on the 2011 Jane's Walk USA website

My goodness, it's already a year since I wrote about my (free!) Jane's Walk experience last year. I've had the upcoming Jane's Walks NYC weekend (Saturday-Sunday, May 5-6) in my head for a few weeks now, and assumed that wherever they're happening, all around the world, they're happening on these same dates. Now I gather that this is not the case, and indeed in some places the events have already taken place. I'm afraid sorting this all out is beyond me, so I offer the two relevant links: Jane's Walk ( and Jane Jacobs Walk (

In New York once again the Municipal Art Society is spearheading Jane's Walk NYC, and I have to say I find the listing of "70-plus free walks" (plus two bike rides) pretty awesome. When I went through the master list highlighting walks I'd be interested in doing, I wound up lingering over almost all of them! Most don't require preregistration, which means that -- especially if the weather is favorable -- some of the walks may draw seriously large crowds, so my thinking is going to be to target the less obviously grabbing events. I'm not necessarily great at this, though.

I have a temptation to forego two-a-day schedule cramming and instead, on one or both days, go for a tour that's far enough off the beaten path that it defies combining with other events. For example, "New Dorp (Staten Island): Possibilities for Walkability and Transit in a Railway 'New Village'" (Saturday, 11:30am, RSVP required), one of only two walks scheduled for Staten Island, the other being to -- where else? -- my old stomping ground: "Tottenville: Main Street U.S.A. (Sunday, 1pm; note that I wasn't able to get the link to work).

Or there's "The Unknown Riverdale" (Sunday, 12n), one of only two offerings in the Bronx -- and if there's one thing that Riverdalites and rest-of-the-Bronxites tend to agree on, it's that Riverdale isn't much more than technically part of the borough. Actually, the other Bronx walk looks interesting too: "Woodlawn: A Small Town in the Big City" (Sunday, 1pm), being concerned not with the cemetery of that name (one of the Bronx's most famous destinations) but with the former village of Woodlawn itself as a particular kind of urban enclave.

It's not surprising that Manhattan is abundantly represented. Two East River destinations caught my eye: "An Accessible Waterfront for East Harlem" (Saturday, 2:30pm, RSVP) and the area that includes the site of the U.N., "Turtle Bay: From Quiet Farmland to the International Stage" (Saturday or Sunday, 11am).

Properly speaking, Roosevelt Island (Sunday, 2pm), which sits in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is part of Manhattan, and this is billed as a "moderate length" walk, covering "approximately 12 blocks." But I'm really trying to focus on sites that aren't so easy to see with expert guidance, and for Roosevelt Island I see that there's a self-guided tour downloadable in PDF form.

Listings are slim for the city's largest borough, Queens. Not counting offerings in the Rockaways (the ocean-front peninsula on the far side of Jamaica Bay), there's just Jackson Heights and Elmhurst (Saturday, 11:30am), "Historic Flushing" (Sunday, 1pm), and a walk built around the sculpture "The Rocket Thrower," still housed in the Flushing Meadows Park site of the 1964-65 World's Fair (Sunday, 12n). Not that there's anything wrong with Rockaways tours. I did a couple myself there last summer, and among this year's Jane's Walks I've been eyeing is "Far Rockaway: Beauty of the Bungalows" (Saturday, 2pm).


I might mention that the second and third parts of ace urban geographer Jack Eichenbaum's series of Municipal Art Society walking tours through the area broadly known as the South Bronx, which began with Mott Haven in March, continues in June with "Melrose: Between the Rails" on Sunday the 3rd and "Morrisania: From Suburbia to the Grand Concourse" on Saturday the 24th. (Check the tour schedule on Jack's website, which also lists a number of walks he'll be doing in May and June in his home ground of Queens.)

When it comes to the city's most populous borough, the range of Jane's Walks NYC offerings shows just how radically Brooklyn has come up in the world. Even with all the Brooklyn walks I've done, I could easily fill both days with Brooklyn events and still have to bypass some that tempt me. Some that I'm looking at: Brownsville (Saturday, 10am), "Red Hook: Layers of History" (Saturday, 10am), Wallabout (the area near the former Brooklyn Navy Yard; Saturday, 11am), "Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn's Most Controversial Development" (Saturday, 2pm), and "Prospect-Lefferts Gardens: Jewel in Brooklyn's Crown" (Sunday, 11am, RSVP). There are a bunch of Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg walks, but these are pretty actively explored areas -- and I'm also thinking these walks may be among the heavier draws.


from 240th Street (Van Cortlandt Park) in the Bronx down to Bowling Green in Manhattan. It's broken down into six two-hour units, with fixed starting points for each: 240th Street to 190th, 8-10am; 190th Street to 112th, 10am-12n; 112th Street to 59th, 12n-2pm; 59th Street to 23rd, 2-4pm; 23rd Street to Canal, 4-6pm; and Canal Street to Bowling Green, 6-8pm. So you can join in for one or more segments, not even necessarily contiguous ones, or if you're feeling really hardy, you can attempt the whole bloody thing. (Um, no, I don't think I'll be doing this.)