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Friday, October 05, 2012

Urban Gadabout: For NY-ers, it's Open House New York Weekend AND What's Out There Weekend, plus catching up with Justin Ferate

My basic principle regarding Justin Ferate's tours is that if Justin thinks someplace is worth going, as long as my schedule permits, I'm going with him. (See below for an update.

by Ken

For NYC gadders, this may be the "the" weekend of the year, with the unfortunately simultaenous immersion of the tenth annual Open House New York Weekend, one of the most eagerly awaited events of the gadding calendar, and a NYC-based What's Out There Weekend presented by the DC-based Cultural Landscape Foundation. The only thing more remarkable than the quality of the offerings is the fact that they're free!


Yes, OHNY Weekend includes bike tours too!

OHNY functions year-round, but to urbanly aware New Yorkers when you say "Open House New York" thoughts turn automatically to "the" weekend, now upon us. Here's the official description:
To celebrate the city’s architecture and design, the 10th Annual openhousenewyork Weekend will once again unlock the city, allowing New Yorkers and tourists alike free access hundreds of sites talks, tours, performances and family activities in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. From private residences and historic landmarks, to hard hat tours and sustainable skyscrapers, OHNY gives you rare access into the extraordinary architecture that defines New York City, while introducing you to the people who make the city a vibrant and sustainable place to live, work, and play.
You have to look at the actual listings to appreciate their staggering range -- in both subject matter and geography. (Start with a map view here.) There are over 200 events, and last year combing through the listings I came up with something like 40 tours I would have happily done.

It gets a little crazy because the actual listings aren't released till two to three weeks before the weekend, and there are always a couple of dozen events you know everyone will be trying to register for, providing frustrated would-be registrants with anecdotes to last them through to next year's festivities. Still, that leaves an awful lot of events still looking for takers, and my guess is that even now you can find lots of really interesting tours you can still do. (Of course some of the most interesting ones are offbeat enough to attract smaller crowds.)

This year my life was simplified by the much earlier announcement of the schedule for What's Out There Weekend NYC. I was so delighted by the offerings that I booked myself solid. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether I can actually survive the whole program.

However, I still plan to look carefully through the OHNY Weekend listings, which always contain suggestions of places that may be visitable -- usually be advance reservation -- at other times of the year.


The D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation is new to me. Here's how it describes its mission:
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) provides people with the ability to see, understand, evaluate and appreciate landscape architecture and its practitioners, in the way many people have learned to do with buildings and architects. Through its web site, lectures, outreach and publishing, TCLF broadens the support and understanding for cultural landscapes nationwide.
I found out all of that after I saw the listings for its What's Out There Weekend in New York (which I wrote about at the end of August), even though I did dimly recall that the dates were the same as OHNY Weekend.
Explore and discover NYC’s
landscape marvels with free tours

in all five boroughs, featuring some of the nation’s most innovative landscapes spanning two centuries of design. Experience the great civic spaces of Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park, Bob Zion’s original “vest pocket park” at Manhattan’s Paley Park; Wave Hill’s majestic views of the Hudson River from the Bronx, and the unique urban design of Sunnyside Gardens in Queens. Many are places people pass daily, but do we know their background stories? What’s Out There Weekend promises to shed new light on familiar places.

What’s Out There Weekend dovetails with TCLF’s Web-based What’s Out There, the nation’s most comprehensive, free, online database of designed landscapes. The database offers a broad and interconnected way to discover the breadth of America’s landscape heritage, while What’s Out There Weekend gives people the opportunity to experience the landscapes they might see every day in a new way.
Recommendations are required, but here may still be a bunch of events you can register for. You'll find listings here (and a schedule pdf here), and then you can register here.

I'm thinking I stumbled onto TCLF and WOTW when the fall Municipal Art Society tour listings were announced, because originally two of the fall MAS tours were scheduled to be "in partnership with the Cultural Landscape Foundation": one on Saturday morning of Grand Army Plaza, at the main entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park, led by Matt Postal; and one on Sunday morning of "St. George: Staten Island's Developing Waterfront," led by "life-long Staten Islander Georgia Trivizas . . . inspired by the overlooked tour guides she's met through her travels -- native taxi and bus drivers"). Early on, however, the Staten Island walk was converted to a regular MAS tour, and I went ahead and registered for it.

Meanwhile I registered for five WOTW walks -- four on Saturday, starting with Matt's Grand Army Plaza one, followed by two in succession in Prospect Park (the Long Meadow and Ravine at 11am, and Lakeside at 1pm), then hauling off to the opposite end of the city, Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park; and one on Sunday, a tour of Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, which I should have more than enough time to get to upon my return from Staten Island. (It wasn't planned, but I realized when the dust settled that over the two days I'll be doing tours in four of the five NYC boroughs -- all of them except Manhattan!)


I've written about some of the amazing tours I've done with the tirelessly engaging and informative Justin Ferate, going back to my first: a daylong trek to Tottenville, at the southern tip of Staten Island. Since then there have been destinations like Jamaica National Wildlife Refuge in Jamaica Bay, northern Manhattan's Morris-Jumel Mansion and Audubon Terrace complex, and the Mark Twain House in West Hartford, Connecticut -- and, most recently, an amazing bus tour to the Usonia Homes in the vicinity of Pleasantville, New York (in more or less central Westchester County), a planned community developed beginning in the late 1940s which took on a whole other dimension when the founders succeeded in enlisting Frank Lloyd Wright to oversee the layout of and design principles of the future development (in addition to designing three homes himself, one of which we got to see).

I may have been remiss in not mentioning the Usonia tour as soon as it was announced. Then again, it sold out pretty quickly.

I know it's kind of late notice, but tomorrow (Saturday) at 1pm Justin is leading a tour for Wolfe Walkers:
Landmarks of Early African-American New York

Few are aware of the role of African Americans in the history of Lower Manhattan. Even fewer are aware that in 1612, a freeman of African and Portuguese descent, Joao “Jan” Rodrigues, became the first non-native settler on the island of Manhattan. In 1626, the later Dutch settlers brought Africans to New Amsterdam as slaves. By 1711, roughly 1/6 of New York’s residents were black – most enslaved and some free. During the tour, we’ll visit such noted sites as New York’s slave market, the site of the slave revolt of 1712, the notorious “Five Points” district, Abolitionist-related sites, the New York African Free School, the site of African Society for Mutual Relief and the site of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the nation.

In addition, from the 1690s until the 1790s, both free and enslaved Africans were interred in a burial ground in Lower Manhattan, beyond the boundaries of New Amsterdam. Built over by development, the cemetery was officially “rediscovered” in 1991. Our tour will include a visit to the new African Burial Ground Memorial – dedicated to those who are buried in this hallowed ground.

During the tour, we’ll encounter such people as Joseph Fran├žois Mangin, designer of New York’s City Hall and the Venerable Pierre Toussaint – a candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood. We’ll address and visit noted religious sites associated with the black community: John Street Methodist Church, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Mother AME Zion, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, and the Abyssinian Baptist Church. We’ll also discover overlooked heroes and heroines. Learn of Elizabeth Jennings who, in 1854, successfully sued to eliminate racial discrimination for New York’s public transit. Discover Dr. James McCune Smith, the first licensed African American doctor in the country. Learn of the New York connections for Frederick Douglass, the most famous African American of the 19th century – often called the “father of the Civil Rights movement.”

Date: Saturday, October 6, 2012 Time: 1:00 PM to approximately 4:00 PM Meet: SE Corner of Broadway at Chambers Street at north end of City Hall Park Trains: 2 or 3 Train to Park Place || A or C to Chambers Street

R Train to City Hall || 4, 5, or 6 Train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Leader: Justin Ferate, Urban Historian

Fee: $ 20 in advance (Includes all Admissions) $ 23 on-site (By check to Hermine Watterson) (Includes all Admissions)
Justin has other Wolfe Walkers tours (which he coordinates) coming up:

* Museum of Chinese in America, Chinatown Walk + Dim Sum Luncheon
Saturday, October 13, 10:30am to approximately 2:30pm, limited to 25 participants
$40 in advance ($45 onsite, if available)

* for Halloween: The Ghosts of Greenwich Village
Saturday, October 27, 1pm to approximately 4pm
$20 in advance, $23 onsite

* Discover the Creation of Freshkills Park! (ferry and bus tour)
Saturday, November 10, 9:15am to approximately 12:30pm, limited to 23 participants
$20 in advance (no onsite registrations)

* The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park
Sunday, December 2, 9:45am to approximately 12:30pm

Registration is by mail, not online. You can download a PDF of the fall brochure or of just the registration form.

Justin's website, Tours of the City with Justin Ferate, is an inexhaustible resource in its own right, and you definitely want to sign up for his mailing list, which brings a rich stream of event announcements and pass-alongs that Justin deems of possible interest. I always look carefully at his e-mails, and am always happy when I can squeeze an event into my schedule -- this is almost all stuff that I wouldn't have found out about otherwise, like the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy's daring venture into my own neighborhood, Washington Heights, for a new tour called "Frankfurt on the Hudson," which drew a huge amount of interest. (I saw Justin there, and he explained that for some time he had thought about undertaking a similar tour but just hadn't gotten to it.) Just this evening there was an e-mail from Justin about the upcoming New York Archivists Week, October 7-13. I still have to go through those listings!


It's coming up in two weeks. Remember, he hasn't offered it in eight years. Do you want to take a chance on having to wait till the next time?
A Day on the J
Sunday, October 21, 10am-5:30pm

This series of six walks and connecting rides is astride the colonial route between Brooklyn and Queens. We focus on what the J train has done to and for surrounding neighborhoods since it began service (in part) in 1888. Walks take place in Highland Park, Richmond Hill, downtown Jamaica, Bushwick, South Williamsburg, and the Lower East Side. Tour fee is $39 and you need to preregister by check to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St. #6C, Flushing, NY 11354 (include name, phone and email address) The full day’s program, registration coupon and other info is available by email: The tour is limited to 25 people. Don’t get left out!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Bombay To Beijing By Bicycle-- A Guest Post By Russell McGilton

The first time I arrived in India it was 1969 and the world was changing around me and inside me. I drove in my VW van from Europe and I stayed almost 2 years, I've been back numerous times since and right now Roland and I are planning another trip to the Subcontinent. Pretty soon you'll be inundated with posts about planning and executing a trip to India, the wonders of Delhi and the glory of Kerala. Meanwhile, though, I asked author Russell McGilton to give us a guest post about his own adventures in India and his recent book, Bombay To Beijing By Bicycle


by Russell McGilton


There I am, two weeks into my grand adventure to cycle from Bombay to Beijing when in some backwater town in India I fall ill to a terrible fever. The doctor has a wonderful beside manner: ‘Congratulations! You are having the malaria!’

‘Riiiiight! Um, tell me doctor. Do many people die from that around here?’

‘Yes, many!’

Despite medical treatment, I will never be quite free of the fevers. Later in the Rajasthani Desert, the school principal of the small town of Shergarth has an enlightening solution of


'Drinking your own urine will cure you of the malaria. '

'Oh, come on! You're taking the piss!'

'Yes. I am taking the piss since 1996 and I feel much better for it. I am stronger, much vigour and I have not been sick once since the treatment.’

So after much ado-ing (is that a word?) I give it a shot. And you know. Mine’s not too bad with a slice of lemon on the side. To my surprise the fevers subside unlike the 


Yes, stop for a quick look at your map, adjust your shorts, a bite to eat, oil the chain and within seconds a crowd of gawking admirers is upon. Even when I am trying to quietly relieve myself behind a bush I look up to see what seems to be the entire population of Indian children staring at my spluttering confluences, smiling and calling for pens. I go insane. But this is nothing compared to 


In the Bardia National Park of Nepal, after failing to locate any tigers we are now in long grass looking for rhinos. ‘Up ahead are rhino. Grass very long. I go first,’ Mundi, our guide warns, ‘If I see rhino I will say “RUN UP TREE!” So you must RUN UP TREE! No ifs or buts.’

Of course, within minutes we hear, ‘RUN UP TREE!’ Everyone gets up their tree, everyone… except me! Because the trees are quite thin and keep breaking. Eventually, I find a tree and latch onto it just as two pale grey rhinos, some 30-metres away, charge us. They stop, look around, snort loudly before charging again and repeating the process. Later, I ask Mundi why they charged only three times.

‘I don’t know. Maybe…’ he rubs his chin thoughtfully. ‘They can’t count to four!’ The next time I am terrified out of my wits is when I get


In Abbottabad (yes, where they killed Bin Laden!), over a hundred kilometres away from Islamabad, I’m madly cycling to the Chinese border when I hear its just been closed. What’s more anti-Western sentiment is stirring up and so, feeling ‘visible’ and I take to wearing the Pakistani national dress, the shalwa kameez (long shirt and baggy pants) and a topi (a Muslim cap). This is rendered futile when I jump on my loaded mountain bike and crowds of smiling men shout, ‘AH! AMERICAN! AMERICAN!’

Luckily, I get a bus out and make it over the border back into India then onto China where I nearly 


in the dead of night. I miss an important stopping point (an abandoned hut to sleep in) and continue up the snow-laden pass. My wheels slip and skid through the slush and more than once I nearly lose my balance and fall into the inky abyss just to the left of me. I am saved by herb fossickers who greet me warmly into their large hut. On the road Chinese-Anglo relations are further enhanced when I hear truck drivers yell ‘I LOVE YOU’. This leaves me blushing but not as much as when I decide to


Sans clothes I run up and down the rocky and unpredictable rocky wall when a bemused guard laughs too heartily for my liking (it was winter, you know).

When I finally arrive in Beijing, I am shocked to see that the Western Pig Dog Imperialists have made there way through the once impenetrable Forbidden City walls not with canons but with polystyrene coffee cups. Yes, there’s a 


inside. I’m so disgusted I down two Brazilian Grande Lattes. As I cycle the streets of Beijing, putting the trip into perspective, I realise that what is more terrifying than the malaria I had contracted, drinking my own urine, nearly falling off cliffs or the hysteria of terrorism but that the knowledge that the environment I had just enjoyed will, in a few short years, be totally unrecognisable as freeways, cars and pollution leave their indelible footprint. Alas, my daughter shall not have such joys.