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Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Will Political Dysfunction Do To America's $1 Trillion Annual Tourism Industry?

The Administration thinks that by next weekend the relatable face of sequestration for thousands in the middle class will be painful airport travel. Long, long lines and miserable delays and inconvenience. Republicans, the s&m party, think it's their job to add pain and suffering to people's lives.

When I was president of Reprise, a division of AOLTimeWarner, we had several sleek private jets at our disposal. I spent a lot of time in New York and in London and flying privately, rather than hassling at an airport, was deliciously convenient. In all my years at the company, though, I never ordered up one of the planes-- not once. It was just too expensive. I always thought it was just stealing from the owners (the stock holders) and that the money would be better used in breaking a new artist. Don't get me wrong... when one of my colleagues was taking the plane and invited me along, I never turned it down. I loved it. It just was never going to come out of any Reprise budget. Once 2 presidents, a chairman, a CEO and a bevy of senior vice-presidents went on a month-long tour of our European affiliates. We went to Paris, Hamburg, Milan, Madrid, Dublin and London and I think I did side trips to Amsterdam, Brussels and Stockholm. Man, there are no words to describe that kind of convenience. The ease of travel was something to marvel at. But it must have cost a fortune.

The people who have the most to say about decisions like the Sequester have their own planes. They tell Boehner and Miss McConnell what they want done. The campaign the Administration is doing to give the Sequester a dysfunctional airport face is laughable to them. Will it matter to GOP backbenchers who start hearing from business travelers?

Ray LaHood is still Secretary of Transportation and he used to be a Republican congressman from Illinois. More than half the Republicans in Congress served with him. He's warning them that this is going to be bad. Friday he predicted chaos at the nation's (public) airports, primarily because thousands of FAA employees-- including air traffic controllers-- will be furloughed to save money. 
"This is very painful for us because it involves our employees, but it's going to be very painful for the flying public," LaHood said.

"Obviously, as always, safety is our top priority and we will never allow [more than] the amount of air travel we can handle safely to take off and land, which means travelers should expect delays," he added.

"Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff."

..."At [the Department of Transportation], we will need to cut nearly $1 billion, which will affect dozens of our programs," he continued.

"Over $600 million of these cuts will need to come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that controls and manages our nation's skies. As a result of these cuts, the vast majority of FAA's nearly 47,000 employees will be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period until the end of the fiscal year and, in some cases, it could be as many as two days."

LaHood said the FAA has begun preparing airlines and unions about the possibility of furloughs for FAA workers. But he said the effects of the cutbacks would be felt most by airline passengers.

LaHood said members of Congress would likely receive complaints from frustrated passengers who are dealing with flight delays.

"As a former member of Congress, I heard complaints all the time from my constituents when their flights were delayed or when their flights were canceled," he said. "Nobody likes a delay. Nobody likes waiting in line. None of us do."

LaHood acknowledged that the White House was seeking to gain a political advantage on congressional Republicans with his dire warning about air travel, even as he denied the administration was using scare tactics about sequestration.

"The idea that we're just doing this to create some kind of scare tactic is nonsense," LaHood said.  "We are required to cut a billion dollars. And if more than half of our employees are at the FAA... there has to be some impact. That's the reason we're announcing what we're announcing."
Tourism is likely to be hard hit as an industry in general. The $110 million dollar cut to the national parks system won't do much to help reduce the deficit but it will mean shuttered campgrounds, shorter seasons, road closings and reduced emergency services
Great Smoky Mountains National Park will close four campgrounds. The Grand Canyon National Park will shorten visitor center hours at the South Rim. Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts will close its visitors center and restrict access to large sections of the Great Beach. And Yosemite and Yellowstone will delay summer road openings up to four weeks, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which said it obtained the details from sources in the park service.
Conservative have always opposed the national park system anyway and in recent years have advocated to selling it off piece meal. And, over the years, friends of mine who have worked served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have told me Republicans are generally contemptuous and mistrustful of anything foreign. They don't understand the role of foreign tourism on many American cities that cater to foreign visitors, like New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas, El Paso, San Antonio, Honolulu. U.S. State Department Consular offices around the world are already operating with serious backlogs of unprocessed visa applications. Sequestration would force a significant increase in wait times for these documents and ports of entry would also be affected, both in terms of the waiting time for passengers to clear immigration and customs, and in terms of the parts and goods imported into American markets. The net impact of these cuts are not going to save money, thy're going to cost money... and lots of it over a long period time and rippling through the economy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Alabama And Mississippi Were Forced To Give Up Slavery... But Mali's Tuaregs Weren't

I don't know... maybe it's because my distant ancestors were slaves in Egypt, but to me slavery is the most horrifying thing that can be done to another human being. And when I was in Mali I saw it close up and personal. I've been wondering why there hasn't been anything in the western press about how the Malian rebels-- the Tuaregs-- were at least in part motivated by their unwillingness to stop using other human beings as slaves. The French, Brits and the U.S. just did not want that to be part of the conversation. There was speculation that the reason was because they had hoped the turn the Tuaregs against the al Qaeda Islamists by looking the other way on the slavery thing.

And then, out of nowhere, USA Today, of all places, blows the whistle on Tuareg slavery this week. They trumpeted that the Tuaregs fleeing the advancing French and Mailian troops have been "taking with them some of their most important possessions-- slaves." Until now all the coverage has been about how the mean Malians have been killing the poor innocent Tuaregs they get their hands on. No context whatsoever-- NONE. That might be just fine for the NY Times but USA Today just put the paper of record to shame.
The Tuareg tribes that overran Mali's military with the help of Arab extremist groups aligned with al-Qaeda have long held slaves and many of the captives are from families that have been enslaved for generations.

"It's no way to live, without your freedom," said Mohammed Yattara, a former slave who ran away from his Tuareg masters years ago.

"You depend on them for everything. If they tell you to do something, you have to do it, or they will beat you," he said as he sat with the chief of the village of Toya and among men and women who were descendants of slaves or former slaves.

"You can marry, but if the master wants to have sex with your wife, he will. Everything that's yours is theirs," Yattara said.

Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic people of North Africa's Sahara desert whose traditional land was divided into several nations, the borders of which were drawn by European colonialist powers.

They predate the Arab tribes that moved into the region centuries ago and in Mali, a former French colony, Tuaregs lived primarily in the north part if the country.

But in March, armed Tuaregs took control of the north from the Mali government and marched south with Islamists aligned with al-Qaeda. They took over the city of Timbuktu and threatened the capital of Bamako. The Islamists imposed strict shariah, or Islamic law, on inhabitants it controlled.

Some Tuaregs took advantage of their newly won control to reclaim freed or runaway slaves, mostly black Africans.

The French military arrived in January and retook Timbuktu from the Tuaregs, who fled into the desert or refugee camps in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mauritania, some taking slaves with them. Tuaregs and Arabs who failed to escape have been summarily killed, activist groups have said.

Human Rights Watch said the Malian army and black African civilians are holding all Tuaregs and Arabs responsible for the recent months of terror and human rights abuses, whether or not they participated in the crimes.

Yattara is one of the few accessible witnesses who was willing to discuss slavery under the Tuaregs.

Like many other residents of his village, Yattara is a farmer in the rice and hay fields in the river's surrounding wetlands.

Each of Mali's dozens of ethnic groups has a traditional occupation, and Yattara is one of the Bella ("slave" in the Tuareg language), the black Africans who have inherited their slave status.

Though slavery was outlawed in 1960, Mali is one of the countries in the world where the practice of human servitude flourishes, with as many as 200,000 Bella living a life of hereditary enslavement.

Not all Tuaregs own slaves, and not all slave owners are Tuareg. There are also black Malian ethnic groups who own Bella slaves.

But in the Timbuktu region, only Tuaregs own slaves. Not only were the Tuareg seen as supporters for the Islamist rebels' harsh rule over the last ten months, but their slave-owning ways fanned racial animosity in northern Mali.

Like all other slave children, Yattara never went to school, and to this day he is unable to read and write. "But my son is in school now," he said proudly.

Yattara said he believes he is in his early 40s but is not certain of his exact age because Tuareg masters do not file birth certificates. He fled his masters as a young man and during his travels to Senegal and Ivory Coast he discovered that slave-owning was in fact illegal.

"In my father's generation, slaves weren't thinking to be free," Yattara said. "But now there are many slaves who want to be free, and they try to find a way, but they are afraid."

In the Timbuktu region, slaves work on farms or as household servants or shepherds. Deeper in the vast desert of the north, inhabited by Tuaregs and Arabs, the slaves mine salt, a back-breaking task done under the Saharan sun.

Salt is the north's main economic product and black slaves deliver the giant grayish slabs by boat or truck to the black Africans, who then take it to markets in the south.

Yattara and his companions agreed that Tuaregs were the worst slave-masters in Mali.

..."In my life I will never forget what it feels like to be a slave," Yattara said. "Whenever I see Tuaregs I will be angry."

And, as we said a few weeks ago, it still isn't time to start planning a vacation in Mali. Seriously, I'd wait. A guerilla war looks likely... and, at least in the north, long-lasting.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Urban Gadabout: Some highlights of the MAS March-May schedule

The only image I could find of Ada Louise Huxtable's 1961 book Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City, which Matt Postal points out is long out of print, was pathetic and unusable. So here's a really lovely photo of Ms. H.

by Ken

Talk about a happy coincidence! This weekend I have walking tours in three boroughs with three of my very favorite tour leaders, all of whom I've written about here frequently: Clinton Hill (Brooklyn) with Matt Postal on Saturday, and "New York in the Time of George Washington" in Lower Manhattan with Francis Morrone and and "The Transformation of Queens Plaza" with Jack Eichenbaum on Sunday. Matt's and Francis's walks are Municipal Art Society tours and long since sold out, but Jack's Queens Plaza walk is his own and is offered on a strictly walk-up basis. (See the section below on Jack's upcoming tours.)

I can't begin to describe how much I've learned from, not to mention enjoyed the company of, all three -- and I've spent a fair amount of time and space here trying. Matt and Francis are architectural historians but with different enough perspectives and eyes to be richly complementary. Jack's perspective is strikingly different as an "urban geographer," showing us how natural and man-made geography shape the development (and redevelopment) of neighborhoods. In the many walks I've done with Jack in four of NYC's five boroughs he has radically reshaped my way of looking at and taking in the city from large vistas down to small details. One thing Jack is proud of is that even when he's leading his groups through areas frequented by other tour leaders, his groups see things we're unlikely to see with anyone else.

I might note that Joe Svehlak's terrific walks through quintessentially NYC neighborhoods not often visited by tours -- places like Sunset Park (Brooklyn) and Ridgewood (straddling Brooklyn and Queens) -- always take into consideration the kinds of developmental factors Jack highlights. These have been some of my favorite MAS tours, though I'm not sure that the folks at MAS HQ value them as highly as I do. It still kills me that I had to miss Joe's Bushwick walk in order to finish a Sunday Classics piece; everyone I've run into who was on it loved it. I've been waiting hopefully for MAS to reschedule it.

On the new schedule Joe is repeating a tour that really intrigues me: through the remains of "Downtown's Lost Neighborhood" (May 11), the barely heralded Lower West Side. The last time Joe offered it, I got as close as the No. 1 subway entrance in front of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, with the assembling group in view across Peter Minuit Plaza, but it was pouring and I didn't even have an umbrella, so with great reluctance I shuffled back down the steps to the subway. (I only wish I could do that now. As we've noted, the relatively new South Ferry station was pretty much destroyed in Superstorm Sandy. The last I heard, the New York City Transit people planning the rebuild were still trying to determine what if anything could be salvaged.) And wouldn't you know, I don't think I'm going to be able to make it this time. I just hope it hasn't sold out by the time I know.


And the fact is that, now that everyone seems to have settled into the MAS system of preregistering for all tours (mostly online, but you can do it by phone when the offices are open), they do seem to be selling out more regularly, some of them pretty quickly. For example, it's already too late, and has been for a while, to register for Francis Morrone's annual tribute to and re-creation of MAS's very "First Tour," led by architecture critic Henry Hope Reed in Madison Square and Gramercy Park on April 8, 1956, when the idea was an astounding novelty. (Recommendation: Since you know when this tour is scheduled, watch for the announcement of the April 2014 tours and pounce. I can tell you that after doing this walk you'll never look at a flagpole the same way.)

I know that people who prefer short- to long-term planning, or are visiting from out of town, aren't entirely crazy about the pre-registration system, but it's also true that some tours may still be available as late as the-day-of. As far as I know, there's no cutoff for online registration as long as there's still space in a tour, which is clearly indicated. If you have nothing to do on a weekend, it's always worth checking the website to see if there's a tour you can slip into. Quite often the tours that don't attract waves of registrants are not only unusual but unusually interesting.

As I mentioned Wednesday, the recently posted listings cover March, April, and May (again, it's easy to remember: you go to and click on "Tours"), and the first thing that popped out for me is the pair of tours Matt Postal is doing, "Remembering Ada Louise Huxtable in Midtown" (March 2 and 16), based on the NYT's legendary architecture critic's 1961 book Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City.

Matt is naturally scheduled for a slew of other tours, which you can check out for yourself. Among those I've done recently enough that I don't need to do them again just yet is a pungent introduction to "Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal" (April 13). I'd love to do Matt's "East River Panoramas" (April 27), but I know I'll be out of commission for that. I hope, though, to be able to do his "New to New York: Downtown Brooklyn" (May 18), even though I've done walks in the area with Francis Morrone and Joe Svehlak -- they all have their own perspectives and emphases.

Francis in fact is also doing his "Downtown Brooklyn" (March 10) again, and also the "Park Slope South" leg (April 28), covering the more working-class southern portion, of his "Three Ways of Looking at Park Slope." Frustratingly, I won't be able to do the "St. Mark's Neighborhood" (April 21) installment of his East Village series, which I was previously registered for and managed to miss (an embarrassing story). I've already registered for Francis's "Irish Footsteps in Lower Manhattan" (March 17), but I have a schedule conflict (a Transit Museum tour of the 180th Street subway shop in the Bronx) for the Washington Square-centered "American Masters: Henry James, John Lafarge, and Stanford White" (March 24). Happily, I should be able to do "Walt Whitman's New York" (May 26); anyway, I've paid my $15.

I've also registered for Eric K. Washington's "Harlem Hike: 145th Street from Hotel Olga to Sugar Hill" (April 7), as a follow-up to his "Harlem Grab Bag," which I'm doing next weekend (that's sold out, but he's doing another version of it on March 31). Eric is known as a leading chronicler of Northern Manhattan, and has written the "Images of America" series volume devoted to Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem, and so I was really looking forward to his recent MAS Manhattanville tour -- so much so that I didn't realize I hadn't actually registered for it till it was too late -- sold out!

Eric is known in particular for knowing more than anybody I know of about Uptown Trinity Church Cemetery, and had a Halloween tour scheduled for MAS which was washed out by Sandy. I made a point of registering for his next MAS foray into the cemetery, the day before Christmas Eve, which synched up, for those who were so inclined, with the annual reading of "The Night Before Christmas" at the beautiful Church of the Ascension, at Broadway and 155th Street, which was for a long time a satellite of the all-powerful (in matters Episcopal in NYC) Trinity Church of Wall Street. I had previously been in the eastern half of the Trinity cemetery, on the east side of Broadway (which you'll recall includes the final resting place of Mayor Ed Koch), notably on an MAS tour that included the Church of the Ascension. But I'd never been in the wilder and more precipitous western half, on the other side of Broadway, which slopes steeply down toward the Hudson River. On that tour I learned that the otherwise-unconnected two halves of the cemetery were actually, for a time, connected by a suspension bridge over Broadway! (Eric had a picture to show us.) Eric will be venturing back into Trinity cemetery for MAS, with "Notable Women of Uptown Trinity Church Cemetery" (March 3) and a "Spring Tour" (May 12).

I've also already registered for architectural historian Tony Robins's "Art Deco on the Upper Upper West Side" (March 31), art deco being a special passion of his. (Tony has been all over the place lately with the publication last year of an updated edition of his 1987 book on the World Trade Center and now of Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark.) This time if Tony starts by asking us when art deco was born, I know it's a trick question. Tony's also doing "Landmark Battles of Midtown" (April 21) and "Central Park as a Work of Art" (May 2).

The Bedford Stuyvesant walks of Brooklyn architecture blogger Suzanne Spellen ('s Montrose Morris, after her favorite architect) and architect and architectural historian Morgan Munsey have become an MAS staple, and April 14's "Bedford Stuyvesant" is actually focused on the heart of old Bedford Corners. The duo will also be touring "Brooklyn's Automobile Row" (in Crown Heights, Bedford Avenue between Fulton Street and Empire Boulevard; May 19).


I had a great time on two such walks. Georgia Trivizas brings a native Staten Islander's special perspective to "Staten Island's Developing Waterfront" (March 23), a walk that's bound to take on some somber new tones post-Sandy, especially in the shoreline area to the east of the Ferry Terminal, where I'd never even set foot before the October walk with Georgia.

And federal court reporter Linda Fisher brings an insider's knowledge to "Manhattan's Civic Center" (April 13), which a hardy band of us did on a bitter cold day in late December (I don't think the temperature reached as high as 20 degrees that day). I'm seriously considering doing the walk again under more normal circumstances. And who knew anybody willing to endure the security screening can just walk into a courthouse and visit courtrooms? Of course most of the courts aren't functional on the weekends, but even on a Saturday the ground-floor courtroom in the Tombs where basically all Manhattan arraignments are handled will be open, because people are always being arrested in Manhattan, after all.

I'm assuming that Alexandra Maruri will be bringing similar special knowledge to the Bronx's "Little Italy on Arthur Avenue" (March 30), a tour I would love to do (as it happens, I've somehow never visited Arthur Avenue) but don't think I can since I'll be visiting Bayside (Queens) with Jack Eichenbaum that morning (see below), it's quite schlepp from Bayside to Arthur Avenue; I don't see how it can be managed in anything like the time available.


And I don't think Brooklyn even qualifies anymore.

I expect to make the acquaintance of New School Prof. Joseph Heathcott, who's scheduled for "Queens Is the Future: Immigrant Neighborhoods Along the 7 Train" (March 9, already sold out! whoops, we all missed that one, but check out Jack Eichenbaum's "signature tour" of the "World of the #7 Train" below), "Sunnyside Gardens and Jackson Heights: America's First Garden Cities" (April 6), and "Queensbridge: America's Largest Public Housing Project" (April 27). This is territory I've covered a fair amount with Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, but again, it's always interesting to see things through different eyes.

Speaking of Jack, though, as I've done so often here, I'm surprised to see that he's represented by just one tour. It's a terrific one, though: "Morisania: From Suburbia to the Grand Concourse" (March 24), which he did last year as the last of three northward-moving walks through the South Bronx. We got to see a staggering variety of urbanscapes sandwiched into the precipitous topography of the West Bronx -- old construction and new, the savage hatchet job inflicted on Bronx neighborhoods by Robert Moses's Cross-Bronx Expressway, the suburban enclave that has replaced the bombed-out Charlotte Street ruins once visited by Presidents Reagan and Carter, lovely Crotona Park, and the grandeur of the Grand Concourse.

Fortunately, Jack has a number of other projects coming up, starting with that Queens Plaza walk this Sunday which I mentioned at the top. More about those projects in a moment.


I feel terrible about all that I've left out, and tour leaders I've left out. I may need to do another post. Let me just point out, though, that there's a night-time tour, ""All Lit Up: Times Square at Night" (with Kathleen Hulser, April 20), and a tour in Spanish, "En Español! El Puente de Brooklyn: Política y Técnica" (April 14), a looks at the history and present of the Brooklyn Bridge and the cities (as New York and Brooklyn both were when the bridge was conceived and built) and the neighborhoods it connects, starting in Lower Manhattan and crossing over the bridge into DUMBO.


First off, if you don't know his website, The Geography of New York City with Jack Eichenbaum, you should, because it contains lots of great information in addition to Jack's schedule. On the "Public Tour Schedule" page you can also sign up for Jack's e-mail updates, which provide advance notice of plans before they make it onto the website. As it happens, Jack has just sent out a very newsy one indeed, which we'll get to.

The World of the #7 Train

Meanwhile, the splashiest news isn't brand new. Jack had already announced that this year's version of his "signature tour" will take place on April 27. I consider this one of the happiest ways an urban gadder can spend a day gadding about NYC. You not only see the full span of the IRT Flushing line (which in Queens is mostly above ground, so there's a lot to see out the windows), but do walks in six strikingly different neighborhoods along its path, including the lunch stop in Flushing's Chinatown. (Jack is a long-time Flushing resident.)

As usual, the tour will be limited to 25 people, and so requires preregistration, and can fill up in a hurry. Jack is still charging only $39, a steal in 2013 dollars. You can e-mail him ( for "the full day's program and other info,", or just send a check. (The address is on the tour page of the website.) Or you can do both! A recent onsite note reports: "As of 2/15/13, there were 12 spots remaining." Be warned that spaces can fill up in a hurry.

Now for the big news: In October Jack offered his "Day on the J," and his new e-mail update contains the news that in June he will offer "Six Walks on the Number Six Train" -- the Lexington Avenue local train that continues on into the Bronx to the southwestern corner of the city's largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Further information is promised in the next update. Once again I expect to be writing my check the day the details are announced!

In other news, Jack reports: "In conjunction with the Grand Central centennial, I am trying to arrange Maps, Realities and the People’s Palace (scroll down at for a weekend date in April. This tour will require registration and I will post it ASAP." Here's the website description:
 Maps, Realities and the People’s Palace

 Tour Grand Central and Bryant Park, planned areas greatly altered since the Civil War. Then we will see how historical cartography captures the changing urban landscape in the splendidly restored Map Room of the New York Public Library.

And Jack also notes that he will be doing two walking tours as part of the third annual Long Island City Arts Open (LICAO, May 15-18), which will also include "performing arts, special gallery exhibitions, open artists’ studios, [and] a street fair," withe details to be posted at

Now for Jack's other non-MAS tours:

The Transformation of Queens Plaza (this Sunday, February 17, 11am-1pm)

A look back at how this "nexus of early 20th century transportation improvements" (the Queensboro Bridge, Northern and Queens Blvds., lines of all three subway divisions, and the LIRR) set the stage for "NYC's largest and most modern industrial area," then went to seed with the exodus of industry from the area, and now has been transformed with amazing speed into something quite different.

It's $15, and we meet at the fare booth of the 39th Avenue station of the N and Q (Astoria) lines.

Flushing's Chinatown (Sunday, March 3, 11am-1pm)

As I mentioned, Jack is a longtime Flushing resident, and has watched the transformation of the area, which also experienced a period of deep decline, be reborn in mostly separate Chinese and Korean enclaves. Flushing's Chinatown, he says, "has come to rival its Manhattan antecedent. Taiwanese rather than Cantonese at its core, Flushing’s Chinatown plays host to a variety of overseas Chinese groups."

Also $15. Meet near the rest rooms on the second floor of the New World Mall on Roosevelt Avenue near the Flushing terminus of the No. 7 train. (There are more detailed directions on the website.)

My Childhood in Bayside (vs. What’s There Now) (Saturday, March 30, 2013, 10:50am-12:50pm -- the timing based on the scheduled arrival of the 10:18 LIRR train from Penn Station)

Every year Jack does a fund-raiser for the Queens Historical Society, and the ones I've done have been some of my all-time favorite walks. This year, in honor of his 70th birthday, on February 2 (sorry I missed your birthday -- happy birthday, Jack!), he's leading "a walk through old Bayside where I lived from 1943-1958. Most of the personal landmarks of my early life have vanished but there are threads of continuity and many anecdotes."

It's $12 for QHS members, $15 for others. (I'm a member, but I'm planning to spring for the full $15.) Meet in front of the post office on the south side of the LIRR stateion on 42nd Avenue. You can also get there via the Q13 bus from Flushing.)

And then there are these just announced in the e-mail update, and so not yet on the website:

Bowne St, My Street (May 4 or 5, time TBA)

As part of the annual Jane's Walks Weekend festivities, honoring Jane Jacobs (I reported on the 2012 schedule here), Jack will lead this walk "along the length of historic and multiethnic Bowne Street in Flushing where I have been living for 35 years." In recent years MAS has been organizing the NYC Jane's Walks, which are all free, and they've done such a good job that there are likely to be about 30 walks over the two days that I'll want to do. The listings should appear in April.

What’s New in Long Island City? (Friday, May 15, 5:45-8pm) -- a walk from Queensboro Plaza to the East River waterfront

Daylight Loft Buildings in Long Island City (Sunday, May 18, 10:30am-12:30pm)

In case you haven't gathered, Long Island City holds a special fascination for Jack, and these are new versions of walks of his that I think we can describe as popular "standbys."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urban Gadabout: Were Mayor Bloomberg's paratroopers in the City Hall area Sunday to provide a Civil War backdrop for our Lincoln walk?

At City Hall, New Yorkers say a final farewell to President Lincoln.

by Ken

I had thought about writing about my touring (and nontouring) weekend here in NYC as rearranged by the storm (see my Friday post, "While we're on storm watch here in the Northeast, maybe it's an OK time to play '2016'"), but I couldn't find an angle that seemed apt to be of much interest. What's more, I felt awkward, since however life here may have been disrupted, we were largely spared by comparison with our neighbors to the east and north. As you headed east on Long Island the storm was progressively more severe, until in easternmost Suffolk County, the southern shore of which was still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, those unlucky folks got the 2-3 feet of snow that had been threatened, as did areas to the north in a path through Connecticut and Massachusetts. You don't want to go whining about what that mean storm did to you when there are so many people so nearby who had it so much worse.

I originally heard after the snow stopped that the city had gotten 5-8", but later I heard 8-12". As I note in the rambling account that follows, I wound up not setting foot outside on Saturday, when I did venture out on Sunday, it looked to me that at least up here in Washington Heights it was more like 5".

As I said, I had kind of given up on writing about the weekend. And then a friend I hadn't had contact with since before the storm e-mailed asking how I had made out, and by the time I had finished answering, I realized i just had written about it. I've fleshed out the account a little here and there, but what follows is basically my answer to his question of how I had made out during the storm, which I began: "Not bad, actually."

I had a Municipal Art Society walking tour of the Tompkins Square area of the East Village with Francis Morrone canceled on Saturday, so I wound up not budging out of the house, and then a New York Transit Museum tour that would have been mostly in the subways was also canceled, because of possibly iffy scheduling in the subways, and the difficulty of traveling into the city from Long Island. (The scheduled tour was the second half of a riding-the-rails exploration with transit historian Andy Sparberg, a longtime veteran of the Long Island Rail Road, of what is known as the Dual Contracts phase, roughly in the 1910s, of the construction of the NYC subway system. We had done the connection from Manhattan into Brooklyn in the first part, and were scheduled to look at the connections from Manhattan to Queens and the Bronx. Signing up for Andy's tours is a no-brainer for me. One of the best took place the very Sunday that the city was counting down to the transit shutdown in anticipation of Sandy, when we looked at surviving traces, from Queens to Manhattan, of the long-gone Second Avenue El.)

But the cancellation of the NYTM tour, much as I regretted it, worked out fine, because it meant I was able to do an MAS walking tour I'd paid for before that part of the NYTM tour schedule was announced. I knew I didn't want to miss Andy's tour, and so had planned to skip the Sunday MAS tour, intriguing though it looked.

It was a Lincoln's Birthday-themed walk with Matt Postal focused on a part of the city that Lincoln is known to have known from his visits here -- and through which his casket traveled on his final "visit," when it was brought to City Hall (which, remember, dates back to 1810!) for a public viewing and then transported up Broadway. Matt pointed out that the newspapers were filled with accounts of the massive public outpouring for the slain president -- and this in a city that had had little interest in or sympathy for the then-new Republican Party or its hardly-known presidential candidate.

The cool thing is that if you start from City Hall Park, which isn't all that different now from the way it was in Lincoln's time, and walk up Broadway, if you know where to look, there are a surprising number of buildings that actually existed in the 1860s (including, for example, St. Paul's Chapel a block below City Hall Park), you can begin to get a glimmering of how the city looked at that time. In addition, there are many more buildings just a decade or two newer, products of the construction boom that followed the Civil War. Again, you need to know where to look, but if you do, you can get some sense of the city of the 1860s, '70s, and '80s.

We only walked up as far as about midway between Canal St and Houston St, but some of the side streets in TriBeCa and SoHo are still mostly buildings from that period. Also along the way on or near Broadway are some of the early department stores and other businesses where Mary Todd Lincoln is either known or thought to have shopped on her visits to NYC, which were actually more frequent than the president's. For one thing, the White House was redecorated during her time residence, and this is where she did much of the purchasing for it.

Matt pointed out when we started that there's an area farther north, leading to Cooper Union, that we know Lincoln knew, but very few buildings there survive from that time EXCEPT Cooper Union, which of course is one of the seminal sites of Lincoln's life. We do know that on at least two of his visits to NYC he stayed at the Astor Hotel, which is long since gone, but whose site Matt pointed out to us right across Broadway from our starting point at the southern end of City Hall Park (i.e., the block north of St. Paul's). One of the visits was when Lincoln, still a locally little-known presidential candidate, gave the great speech at Cooper Union, one of the most important speeches in American history, a speech that, when it was printed in newspapers across the country, transformed his candidacy. To get from the hotel to Cooper Union, he would have walked pretty much the path we did, up Broadway!

Matt made a point of taking us past the statue of Horace Greeley, the onetime ardent Whig who was a founder of the Republican Party, which now sits at the eastern end of City Hall, across from what was once the city's Newspaper Row on Park Row, where Greeley's New York Tribune was headquartered. The story is that after Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, he and Greeley repaired to the Tribune building to watch over the typesetting and proofing of the speech for publication in the next day's paper.

Matt noted that he's done the Lincoln walk a number of times now, and one thing he knows is not to expect cooperation from the weather. It's always going to be scheduled on what is likely not to be the weather-friendliest weekend of the year. The tour was sold out, meaning 30 people had paid either $15 (for members) or $20 (for nonmembers). About a dozen made it. Which was probably lucky, since the condition of the streets and sidewalks so soon after the storm wouldn't have made it easy for a group of 30 people to navigate. (Of course all 30 people NEVER show up, even when there's no weather excuse! In fairness, I should point out that if the Transit Museum tour hadn't been canceled, I wouldn't have showed up either!)

What's more, the whole City Hall area was being transformed, as we passed through it shortly after 11am, into a locked-down fortress area -- the Bloomberg administration's typical military-stye response to the demonstration that was coming of striking bus drivers. I didn't know anything about it, and was totally puzzled when I came up from the Park Pl subway station and saw about 30 cops huddled at the corner of Broadway and Park Pl. They turned out to be just a tiny contingent of what must have been hundreds (perhaps many hundreds?) of police officers pressed into service for the military operation.


It's easy to remember. You go to and click on "Tours." The new listings cover March, April, and May, and the first thing that popped out for me is an interesting pair of tours Matt Postal is doing, "Remembering Ada Louise Huxtable in Midtown" (March 2 and 16), retracing two of the routes proposed by the NYT"s legendary architecture critic in her 1961 book Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City, published by MAS and MoMA.

Matt and a host of other ttour leaders, familiar and unfamiliar (at least to me) will be leading a host of other walks. I started doing some quick notes, but it's a tribute to the range of offerings that it quickly expanded to a length that requires a post of its own, so that's what I'll do, perhaps tomorrow. [<b>UPDATE</b>: Not tomorrow. Make that Friday.]

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Ahhh ... La Gloire De Mayotte Fabuleux-- Know Anyone Who's Ever Been To The French Département Of Mayotte?

A friend of mine just got back from Mayotte. He was only at Dzaoudzi Airport, across the channel from Mamoudzou, his plane having stopped briefly on a trip between Moroni on Grande Comore and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (a stopover itself on the way to half a dozen other places on an inconvenient and circuitous route to Florida). And there is no convenient way to get to Mayotte from America, take my word for it. But people do go there. It's a couple of islands in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. There are no hotel chains... always a very good indication that you might be onto someplace worth going to visit. Mayotte is part of a larger small chain of Islands, the Comoros, but Mayotte's 50,000 people voted to stick with France when the rest of the islands formed an independent country in 1974. There was another referendum in 2009-- since the population had grown to nearly 200,000-- and 95.2% of the voters decided they'd rather be part of France than part of the Union of Comoros. 97% of the people there are Muslims. Before being taken over by France in 1841, Mayotte had been conquered by Madagascar and a succession of Afro-Arab sultanates.

The Comoros, which has been chaotic and politically unstable, claims sovereignty over Mayotte and the UN has tended to agree. In 2011 France vetoed a Security Council resolution giving Mayotte back to the Comoros. It's now France's 101st département. That's an unheralded victory over Sharia Law, which is being eased out in favor of the French civil code. (Someone needs to tell American Islamaphobe Bryan Fischer.)

French is the official language of course, but more people speak Shimaore, Shindzwani, Kibushi and Shingazidja than French, at least as a primary language. On the other hand, the currency is the Euro and Americans don't need visas to go there. The tourist attraction is unspoiled nature and unspoiled beaches. Tourists go for the snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching and sailing. It's always hot and tropical but the best time to go is between June and October when is relatively cooler and free of the cyclones that plague the islands during the rainy season (November to May).

Mayotte... that's all there is

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Timbuktu Liberated... But Don't Book A Trip Quite Yet

Bassekou et moi à Bamako... better days

Roland and I capped off a month in Mali with a trip to the city that had lured us to the country in the first place: Timbuktu. And it was worth the grueling drive in a jeep over dirt "roads" to get there. We both loved this throwback of a city to ancient times. The city has gone through-- to put it mildly-- some pretty hard times, first at the hands of barbaric Tuareg slavers and then at the hands of just as barbaric Islamic religious freaks, since we were there. Now the town has been, let's say liberated by the Malian Army and their French allies. But I wouldn't book a flight in yet-- even if there are already sparks, miraculously, of a tourist industry revitalizing. Today the President of France, François Hollande is visiting the city, although I doubt he'll be staying in any hotels.
The Hotel Colombe in Timbuktu closed its doors at the end of March last year. In Mali's capital Bamako an army mutiny had begun while in the Saharan north, the town of Kidal had fallen to rebels using arms looted in the aftermath of Libya's civil war. The Colombe's energetic manager Mohamed Toure thought the death knell had sounded for tourism in Mali.

With no money coming in, he was reduced to one meal a day. "I didn't think I would ever see another European again." He was proven wrong this week as the jihadis fled in advance of the French troops in Mali's fabled city. Now Mr Toure's crumbling hotel is back in business. After one of the darkest years in its long history Timbuktu is coming back to life.

The artisans' market, a hive of weavers, tailors and jewellers, has reopened. Ben Ali, a jeweller, was already back working on a silver ring. Most of his business came from the traditional ceremonies that punctuate Malian life. He pointed to an ornate silver headdress in the display box behind him: "They stopped our women from wearing traditional jewellery," he said. "This is nonsense, they just came in with their sharia. These guys knew nothing about religion, they're just gangsters."

DJ Ali Biko was also back in action across the street. A young looking 19-year-old, his speakers had come out of hiding to blare reggae through the market area. "When the Islamists were here I was really stressed," he said. "We couldn't listen to music."

Me & Mohammed in downtown Timbuktu

He chose to play music in this store because it had belonged to Arab traders, whom locals accused of backing the al-Qa'ida affiliates who occupied Timbuktu. With Malian rapper Milles Mots at full blast, Ali joked that seeing his friends dance in the looted wreck of the store was his revenge.

Me and Mohammed again-- still downtown Timbuktu
Such small acts of defiance are visible everywhere in a city that was famed before last year for its diversity. In the warren of stalls behind the artisan market, Abou Bakry Moussa was selling things he wouldn't have dared to display one week before. Obama belts featuring the stars and stripes and a grinning American President are outselling Chelsea hats and Real Madrid socks. "We had hidden them before," he said. "People had to ask for them." Upstairs, Radio al-Farouk has become the first station in northern Mali to go back on air. The DJ, in clear defiance of the jihadis who ruled the city until last week, relaunched by playing tracks from the legendary Malian musician Ali Farka Touré. The station should be back in full operation within a month. Four days after the first French soldiers swept into the city, cigarettes and alcohol have also made a comeback.
Alcohol is back too and the airport was captured by the French. Obviously it's working well enough for Hollande to have flown in today. When we were there there were two airlines, Air Mali and Air Timbuktu, flying ancient prop planes from to Bamako via Mopti. Leaving Timbuktu, I flew on one and Roland flew on the other and they both left at the same time. I recall them disarming a tribesman when he boarded but giving him back his sword once the plane took off. Air Mali is grounded until September and Air Timbuktu is out of business entirely. Today Hollande's plane flew from France to Sevare. The NY Times reports that "life is certainly a long way from returning to normal. Shops owned by Arab tradesmen have been looted. Some residents have fled, a foretaste of ethnic strife that many fear will roil Mali for years to come. Electricity and running water are available only a few hours a day. The cellphone network remains down."
Many of the residents who left-- first to escape the occupation, then to escape the French airstrikes-- have no way to return. Always remote, the city remains dangerously isolated: the dusty tracks and rivers leading here wind through forbidding scrubland territory that could still provide refuge for the Islamist fighters who melted away from the cities.

Those who remained told stories of how they survived the long occupation: by hiding away treasured manuscripts and amulets forbidden by the Islamists, burying crates of beer in the desert, standing by as the tombs of saints they venerated were reduced to rubble, silencing their radios to the city’s famous but now forbidden music.

“They tried to take away everything that made Timbuktu Timbuktu,” said Mahalmoudou Tandina, a marabout, or Islamic preacher, whose ancestors first settled in Timbuktu from Morocco in the 13th century. “They almost succeeded.”

The occupation of Timbuktu, a center of learning for centuries, was the latest in a long historical list of conquests-- by Arab nations, by the Songhai and Maasina empires, by France. Once again, powerful global forces were in play in this fabled city: a network of Islamic extremists, the armies of France and West Africa, and to a lesser extent the United States, which has flown in French forces and refueled French warplanes during the campaign.

Through it all, the city’s residents, whose ancestors endured such ravages for the better part of a millennium, have adapted as best they could.

On April 1, the day rebels arrived in this city, Mr. Tandina had just returned from the first, predawn prayer of the day. He made bittersweet tea to the murmur of a French radio broadcast. The news was bad: Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, had fallen to Tuareg rebels, the nomadic fighters who had been battling the Malian state for decades.

His hometown was almost certainly their next target. When shots rang out in Independence Square, just behind Mr. Tandina’s house, he knew that Timbuktu’s latest conquerors had arrived.

“The barbarians were at our gate,” he said with a sigh. “And not for the first time.”

The Tuareg fighters took control of the city, and for two days they looted its sprawling markets, raped women, stole cars and killed anyone who stood in their way.

“Then the man with the big beard came,” Mr. Tandina said.

Barrel-chested and dressed in a blue tunic, the leader of Ansar Dine, an Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, arrived with several truckloads of fighters. The new rebels called the city’s people to a public square and made an announcement.

“They said, ‘We are Muslims. We came here to impose Shariah,’” Mr. Tandina said.

At first, Timbuktu’s people were relieved, he said. Beginning a hearts-and-minds campaign, the group garrisoned the fearsome Tuareg nationalists outside of town, which stopped the raping and pillaging.

They did not charge for electricity or collect taxes. Commerce went on more or less as usual, he said.

Then a mysterious group of visitors came from Gao, heavily armed men riding in pickup trucks, trailing desert dust.

“They told us they were here to establish an Islamic republic,” Mr. Tandina said.

It started with the women. If they showed their faces in the market they would be whipped. The local men grew angry at attacks on their wives, so they organized a march to the headquarters of the Islamic police, who had installed themselves in a bank branch. The Islamists greeted the protesters by shooting in the air. Many fled, but a small group, including Mr. Tandina, insisted that they be heard.

A young, bearded man came out to meet them. Much to Mr. Tandina’s surprise, he recognized the Islamic police official. His name was Hassan Ag, and before the fighting began he had been a lab technician at the local hospital.

“When I knew him he was cleanshaven, and he wore ordinary clothes of a bureaucrat,” Mr. Tandina said.

Now he was dressed in the uniform of the Islamist rebellion: a tunic, loose trousers cut well above the ankle, in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad, and a machine gun slung across his shoulder.

“I told him our women were being harmed,” he said.

Mr. Ag was unmoved.

“This is Islamic law,” he said, according to Mr. Tandina. “There is nothing I can do. And the worst is yet to come.”

Soon it came. They began destroying tombs of the saints venerated by Timbuktu’s Muslims. Armed with pickaxes and sledgehammers, they reduced to rubble the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud, a saint who, according to legend, protected the city from invaders.

Venerating saints, an ancient practice here, was considered un-Islamic in the austere version of the faith proclaimed by the occupiers.

Mr. Tandina said he tried to use his decades of Koranic education to argue with the Islamists, citing verses about respecting the burial places. They would not listen.

Before long, he said, amputations started. Then came the executions. Again he said he tried to intervene, going to the Islamic court with stacks of Islamic law books under his arm.

“Islam was whatever they said it was,” he said. “They did not respect the holy book. They respected nothing but their own desires.”

For hundreds of years, Timbuktu was one of the world’s most important centers of Islamic learning. The city has dozens of mosques, and it is famous for the ancient, handwritten manuscripts that city residents have collected for generations, preserving them against waves of invaders and creating a priceless trove of knowledge about the Islamic world and beyond. Many families have long traditions of Islamic learning, passed from father to son.

So many here bristled when the Islamists called the population to lecture them about the proper practice of the religion in which they had been raised.

“What they call Islam is not what we know is Islam,” said Dramane Cissé, the 78-year-old imam at one of the city’s biggest and oldest mosques. “They are arrogant bullies who use religion as a veil for their true desires.”

But like many Muslims here, he hid away his amulets, prayer beads and other banned religious items. In his mind his faith remained the same.
How soon before Timbuktu's famous Festival au Désert is back in business? Well... no time at all! They're kind of sponsoring a desert caravan of artists this year-- a Peace and Unity event-- with concerts in Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Burkana Faso. The Islamists sacked the regular site of the Festival, destroying the water systems, looting the generators and electrical equipment, and "crushing all that had appealed to the promotion of culture and tourism." So this year-- starting February 7 in Bamako, the Caravan of Artists for Peace and National Unity heads off to Kobeni in Mauritania on the road to Nouakchott (the capital) and play two nights of concerts, February 8 and 9 sponsored by the Al Hawa Cultural Foundation of Mauritania. They'll partner with the Festival on the Niger in Ségou on February 14 and two days later at the Festival of Mali in Bamako. A second caravan will leave Tamanrasset, Algeria and travel through the Tuareg heartland to Niamey, Niger and on to Burkina-Faso and the two caravans will hook up in Oursi 350 kilometers from the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou for the Festival in the Desert 2013 (on February 20, 21 and 22). The last stop in at the Festival International of Sélingue in Mali on March 1, 2 and 3. The artists participating are primarily Malian, although the Festival's press release says other international artists will also play to show their solidarity. None have been named yet and I suspect Robert Plant and Bono won't be making it this year.

Unesco has pledged to help rebuild Timbuktu's destroyed cultural heritage. My friend Sophie runs an awesome hotel in Djenne, Djenne Djenno, which is-- amazingly-- still open. She blogs about her life in Mali and it's a great place to check out what's really going on there.