Sunday, July 31, 2011

 

Ochre, Red, Black, Blue and White are this post's colors

I don't like hats and I never have.  It all goes back to New York City when I was a kid.

My parents put me in a kindergarten that operated on the ground floor of a brownstone townhouse that required all its little charges (male variety) to arrive, leave, and go out to recess in the garden/yard behind the building wearing a little Eaton Cap (roughly like the casquette, below left). I always felt claustrophobic having my head enclosed,  as well as too hot.  But the worst thing was that my parents were determined that I must not grow up with my ears sticking out, to assure this didn't happen, whenever I had the cap on they would make sure the top of my ears were tucked under the edge of the hat.

This arrangement made the claustrophobia worse and it hurt since the caps were made to fit snugly.  Worse, my ears would get irritated, fill up with blood and be very hot.  I think my dislike of hats dates without question to those damned Eton Caps.

There was, however, one important incident in my early development that included the Caps.  There was one little boy in kindergarten, Kenny, who was a bully.  Whenever we were outside on a good day, Kenny would stand around behind the slide and wait for another boy to climb up.  Kenny had his timing figured out precisely; as the boy reached the top of the ladder and began to sit down, Kenny would race up the steps and as the other boy began his descent, Kenny would grab his cap and fire it over fence that was immediately next to the slide into the neighbor's garden.

Loss of a cap to Kenny's strong right arm throw was a very serious business because the woman next door hated having a kindergarten next to her house and refused any plea for return of the caps.  I don't know whether they went into the garbage or were donated to the Salvation Army or sat on her mantelpiece with pins stuck in them, but they most certainly were never returned to the kindergarten.  The day inevitably came when I was the little boy beginning to slide; Kenny ripped the cap off my head and tossed it over the fence.

Some sort of politics I never could figure out now went into action.   I went to one of the teachers, explained what happened and was told that nothing could be done and that there would be no punishment for Kenny.  I was outraged and went home that day scared because my parents had impressed on me that my kindergarten clothes were expensive and I had to take care of them.  Well surprise, there were no consequences when I explained the situation; my mother opened a drawer in which there were at least two, maybe three, matching caps and just told me to be as careful as I could.  From then on I made sure to go down the slide with my left hand firmly holding the cap on my head.  But I was also planning revenge.

Kenny rarely went down the slide, but one day when some of the children had gone back inside a bit early, I saw him head for the ladder.  He never saw me move into position behind him and then spring up at precisely the right moment.  One of the two teachers saw what was about to happen and called out a warning, "Kenny, your hat!" --  a warning she had never given to any of the other boys in the school.  But before she could get all the words out, the cap was sailing over the fence where the woman in her garden was scowling at me.  I didn't care.

I didn't care, because Kenny was holding onto the teacher's skirt wailing at the top of his lungs, a bully in defeat, unable to take what he had given others.  The teacher was consoling him, stroking his head and talking to him softly, as if he enjoyed some special status and protection which I never understood.  But I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. 

And from that day, Kenny never sent another hat over the fence. 

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This striking picture appeared on the web some while ago and I regret not being able to credit the originator.  I immediately thought it was a painting or some sort of art print.  But it's not -- it is a photograph, probably enhanced a little bit, but a photograph nevertheless.  It was taken in an African desert area by waiting for just the right sunrise or sunset light to hit sands beyond an area of shadow, silhouetting dead trees dramatically.  The golden flecks are small rocks and stones on the sand.  The photo below shows the larger scene in this beautifully stark and barren landscape.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

 
A superb summer picture: Sunflowers in Touraine by good Facebook and Blogger Buddy (another american living in france WCS), Walt Streeter. 

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As the dangerous, self-aggrandizing  and insensitive buffoons in Washington DC continue to stall and avoid any substantive work to rescue the country from financial disaster, the chart below which should be required reading for all members of the GOP, shows quite clearly where the crushing national deficit really came from:

This information has been common knowledge for a very long time, but it's good to recall it now that the American people are being thoughtlessly thrown under the bus by people who believe they can tell any lie and people will believe them.  Sadly, that's one thing about which they seem to be right.

I've sent a couple of emails to DC, particularly one to the Speaker of the House reminding him that Social Security is not some free give-away but something for which I and millions like me HAVE PAID FOR all our working lives; I also protested the policy of cutting the security out from underneath the retired, aged and infirm while protecting the ultra wealthy from any semblance of a fair share of taxes. Not surprisingly, there hasn't been even so much as a condescending form response in my email; clearly, such as I don't matter to The Speaker who has billionaires to protect.

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On Saturday of our trip to NYC, we spent the morning taking the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island.  The three hours were fun and informative, particularly because the trip guide was extremely knowledgeable on subjects as diverse as the rents and/or prices for apartments in particular buildings we passed to the history of whole areas of the city.  He also made the trip enjoyable by announcing politely but firmly that parents were responsible for their children who were NOT going to be running all over the boat annoying people; and that people taking pictures were not to gather at the rails and stay put so that people on the benches only got to see "a wall of butts."  Everyone complied and the three hours were extremely pleasant. 

I had suggested the cruise because Fritz had never done it and I thought that with a big family gathering in the evening, the Circle Line would let us see and experience a lot of the city without our getting exhausted in the summer heat.  Here are some highlights:

The lower West Side of Manhattan.  The building with the two cranes on top is rising from Ground Zero, the skyscraper replacement for the Twin Towers that were destroyed in 9/11.  It has reached approximately one third of its eventual height.

The famous, beautifully cleaned and restored Immigrant Terminal building on Ellis Island.  All four of my grandparents were processed here for entry into the country in 1902 and '03 (my father's parents) and 1910 (my mother's parents and elder sister).

The Statue of Liberty, of course.  I remember as a kid climbing the spiral staircase back in the days when there were rarely any waiting lines  The arm bearing the torch had already been closed by then, but you could go up to, and walk around in, the crown any time you wanted to.

The lower East Side: a Frank Gehry building said to be the result of his fascination with fish scales.

In the lower 20s on the East Side: four apartment towers that the guide on the boat called "Venetian buildings" because they are supported on old fashioned wooden piles exactly like the palazzi in Venice.  This technique may have been possible because bedrock is very high on the island of Manhattan and in the waters surrounding it.  But, the East "River" -- actually a tidal channel between Long Island Sound and New York City Harbor-- is salt water and I wonder what wood they could have used because salt water and wood don't work together.

Further north on the East 60s and 70s, some of the classic luxury apartment buildings that comprise the most expensive residential real estate in the city.

A wonderful old Pepsi sign near the border between Queens and Brooklyn.

Back in the Hudson River, large residential developments on piers stretching far out from the New Jersey shore.  These are the northernmost two,  just south of the George Washington Bridge.

Manhattan's upper West Side with the Tomb of Ulysses S. Grant on the left and the Riverside Church to the Right.  Grant is buried there next his long-suffering wife (the old general/former President could apparently be a real handful on occasion).

Riverside Church was said by the guide (and the Wikipedia article agrees) to have been inspired by the Cathedral of Chartres in France.   I was skeptical while on the boat; I have since spent time comparing pictures of the two buildings side by side and can find little if any resemblance.

Just about to pull into the Circle Line Pier on 42nd Street.  The pier just north of our destination now hosts the decommissioned Concorde supersonic passenger jet liner and, it's exhibit of fighter jets easily seen on its flight deck, the aircraft carrier Intrepid.  An announcement was made just the day before that New York City would get one of the four NASA Space Shuttles; I wonder if it will join the Intrepid and Concorde here -- it would seem to make sense.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

 
Today having been the first day of same-sex marriage in New York State, I thought it would be good to celebrate with these two handsome men coming from just having gotten married in Manhattan.  As in other states that have marriage equality, many of the couples had already been together for decades, nicely destroying the contention of some opposition groups that gay marriages are frivolous and intended simply to assist in the destruction of "traditional" marriage.  How the happiness below could be considered to threaten anybody's marriage is completely beyond me.        
         Congratulations, guys!   

Photo by Baad Lamb via Father Tony Adams

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On Saturday afternoon the weekend we were in New York City, we did a walkabout in the East Village, starting at a little coffee house for iced drinks and pastry.  The fast pace and awesome height of the buildings of mid-town were a couple of miles north of this delightfully quirky, informal and varied area.

First discovery: this little Spanish café inside an old garage with an old VW bus as its bar.  A peek into the interior showed some live palm trees and swags of Christmas lights illuminating the interior.

Not too far away, this impressive neo-classic pile, its massive facade dominating the corner of its side street and The Bowery (the southern extension of Third Avenue).  But for all its width, it is incredibly shallow -- look in the upper right corner of the shot to see just how little depth there is to this building.

Just two blocks south of our hotel we ran into the Amato Opera Theater building, a genuine East Village -- indeed New York City -- cultural landmark.  Anthony and Sally Amato founded their company in 1948 and produced opera at popular prices for three years in churches and other rental venues around the area.  In 1951, they took over a building on Bleeker street and made a 299 seat theater.  Tony was the producer/artistic director; Sally made costumes, ran lights, manned the box office.  They sometimes toured to New Haven or New London, CT.

The Bleeker Street building closed in 1959 and they ran a gypsy operation again until 1964 when they found and occupied the building, above, at 319 The Bowery at 2nd Street.  The space defined "intimate."  The stage was only 20 feet wide, there was a tiny orchestra pit and the audience in the 107 seat theater (sometimes augmented by a number of fire code-violating folding chairs)  seemed right in the middle of the action.  Singing could be variable to say the least, but core musical values were strong and decades of young singers got invaluable stage time at the onset of their careers.  Two future stars who began at the Amato were Jon Frederick West, eventually a respected Wagnerian tenor, and Mignon Dunn, a strikingly beautiful mezzo soprano and fine actress who became a star at the Metropolitan Opera in Italian, French, German and Russian operas.

Sally died in 2000.  To say it was a blow would be total understatement, but Tony kept on going until he finally called it quits in 2009.  He made a simple statement for his public farewell; he was 88, he was tired and there were other things to do, like perhaps write a history of the company.  And that was that, it was over after 61 years.  The New York opera community was stunned by news of the closing, almost as if they'd lost their own homes.

So it's now two years later and the building is still for sale.  Two years.  A good commercial building in New York City in a prime location.  Some things just can't be replaced.
 

I detoured down the street to shoot this wonderfully elaborate firehouse.  I was caught by the row of brackets in Chinese red under the crown at the edge of the roof.  And a detail like the little bird house perched on the street light on the right of the second floor.

What a little gem this building is!  The cornice is too large in scale for a modest two storey building of its type.  It would fit much better on a four or five storey structure.  The facade below the cornice has been heavily abused over the years, but I suspect that the building was originally a livery stable.  The scale and style of it remind me strongly of a row of old livery stables, now chic boutiques and residences, on Boston's Newbury Street near the corner with Massachusetts Avenue.

This building sits rather heavily on Third Avenue between sixth and seventh streets, one block north and on the same side of the street as the chic new hotel we stayed in.  I never managed to find out what it was, but I've come to think of it as a Transformer building that's caught just at the moment it's breaking open to become something entirely different.

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 I've forgotten where I found this -- thank you, whoever! -- but I think it's an appropriate closer to a blog entry that began with the beginning of New York marriages.  There is a backlash and some people who should know a great deal better have said some very unfortunate and thoroughly untrue things.  I prefer to wish all those who are marrying in New York long and happy lives together.  


Thursday, July 21, 2011

 
I'm staying with architecture for this post, and will for the next one as well.  I came across a file full of treehouses and picked these four as the most interesting, at least the ones that most resonated with me.

The geodesic dome and I go way back to Expo '67 in Montreal.  Buckminster Fuller had popularized it and it was one of the great highlights of the Expo along with Habitat, a jumble of prefabricated apartments stacked as if randomly on top of each other so as to snake around the landscape ad lib.  I caught up with them after Expo itself had ended and new exhibits were installed in the various buildings in the hope of keeping tourists coming.  The dome had become a giant aviary for tropical birds.  It was raining the day I visited and you had to keep your umbrella up inside the dome as it leaked like a sieve.

My next encounter with Fuller was during the early '70s at Emerson College where I was head of the scenic design operation for five years.  The students had voted for "Bucky," generally considered a genius by all although known by some to be pretty much around the bend, as their commencement speaker.  He got to the podium and began to talk without notes of any kind -- it just poured out of him, unchecked, for over an hour and a half at which point the Chancellor walked over to him and, covering the microphone with his hand, told the old visionary that he had to cede the platform to the rest of the graduation.  It didn't seem to bother him a bit; he just smiled sweetly and waved as he made his way back to his seat.  And everybody sighed in relief.

Here's a delightful little Federal Period treehouse, the sort of thing one feels little Tommy Jefferson might have had in his back yard.  What I love is the contrast between the roughness and wildness of nature and the carefully structured rationality of the neoclassic building surreastically up in the air.

Another dome, this one Japanese, in a forest to give hikers a sheltered place to rest by day or to spend the night.  The triangular, forrested mass in the background suggests one of Japan's volcanoes, although not the exquisitely symmetrical Mount Fuji.

I've saved my favorite for last, because it's the one that reminds anyone who builds a treehouse that the tree keeps on growing and will inevitably rip the house apart as it does.

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Not a treehouse, but perhaps the urban equivalent.  The Cooper Square Hotel in Greenwich Village, New York City.  We were in the city for a family event last weekend that took place here, and where most of the major players stayed.  The Cooper Square is an ultra-modern, high-concept and very chic boutique hotel. 

It is definitely for special occasions as it's pricey, but the staff was extremely attentive.  Requests for an ironing board and iron or blankets in place of the duvet (which Fritz and I hate as they are invariably way too hot even with air-conditioning) were met within three to four minutes.  A chilled complimentary bottle of champagne was waiting for us on arrival, WiFi was available at no extra charge, and the views were extraordinary.
  
Our room was on the 15th floor, on the left edge of the building in the picture above, meaning we had views north to the entire rest of Manhattan, and east over the East Village and on to Brooklyn. 

The event took place in the Penthouse on the 21st floor, a room with floor to ceiling windows on all four sides, and the terrace even had glass rails so that the views were completely uninterrupted.  The site was a huge hit with the guests and as the evening wore on, the city became brilliantly illuminated, adding to the excitement.  The brownstone Cooper Union that gives its name to the area is in the lower left.

The bath tub of beer on ice was a popular meeting place.  The Penthouse would appear to have been thought of as a residence (certainly at an astronomical price for sale, rental or as a hotel stay for ultra high-end travelers).  Elevator access required a special card to take guests up past the normal hotel room level, and opened directly onto the largest single space in the place, surrounded on three sides by the terrace.  On either side of the elevator entrance were a probable dining room off which was a kitchen area from which came the evening's passed hors d'oeuvres (I have a proven track record of never passing up a passed hors d'oeuvre).  On the other side of the elevator shaft was the enormous bathroom that included this tub, built-in book shelves along two walls, and a huge round ottoman, as well as two lavatory rooms and a handsome stall shower.  A staircase in the kitchen area led upstairs to what Fritz suspected was a master bedroom suite and probably a great deal more.

View through the glass rail wall of the terrace toward the East Village bathed in sunset light.  The towers and part of the span of the Williamsburg Bridge are visible at the right.

Not the steadiest of night shots, but somehow rather pretty for the effect: The Empire State Building towering over all at the left, with the white-lit Metropolitan Life Insurance Building in front and the gold pyramid-topped New York Life Insurance Building directly right of it.  The blue-lit building with the clock face is on 14th street and all the way on the right edge is the brilliantly lit art deco spire of the Chrysler Building, most Manhattanites' (and my) favorite sky scraper of all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

 
Architecture by Michal Vesely -- that's the name of a Facebook page that I stumbled on courtesy of another Facebooker.  Vesely may be an architect himself (the description of him is a little vague), but he is a first-rate architectural photographer of others' work.  There are slightly over 100 pictures in his photo album and these are just a smattering of things that caught my eye:

A fluid use of floor"boards" and stair treads that swoop up to become the continuation of the staircase.

This one terrified Fritz completely.

This one I really love; there's an elegance to it and a sensuous, almost "draped" feel to the room, set off by the simple geometrics of the furniture.

A time there was when architects proved their virility by putting up huge vertical buildings, one after another, but each one taller than the most recent competition.  That began to change with advances in engineering and materials that made cantilevering progressively longer and heavier structures out from the main building mass possible.  The condo building (above), "swing house" and the "tree house" (in order, below) are good examples of the ever-more common outward thrust architecture.
 




More interior design than architecture, but with a whimsical quality that I really liked: wallpaper becomes shelving.
A music school in Malaysia.  The undulating grass roof is the same concept as the new café in New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. 
 
As a man named William, I really liked this one!

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Last Friday we received the last of the big deliveries of perennials and shrubs that are part of our landscape/garden plan.  We may add an ornamental tree or two next fall, but with this delivery and the big effort involved with planting it (steep terrain, rock-filled soil poor in organic matter and requiring a lot of peat moss and composted manure) the transformation of the barren landscape left after the house's construction is complete.

This new garden sits just downhill from the three raised vegetable garden terraces.  To the right, there's a precipitous ten foot or so drop to the swale behind the house.  Plants here include silver artemisia, hyssopus, achillea tormentosa, bee balm, lavender, nepeta, and a perennial version of dianthus.  The bark-covered paths above and below this garden are new, as is the retaining wall.  I left clumps of native fern at the top of the retaining wall and several wild sweet ferns (actually not a fern but a woody shrub) on the top of the cliff at the right to add some variety.  Four low-growing juniper are on the other side and downhill of this garden and not visible here.

I refer to this as the "paisley garden" because of its shape typical of paisley prints.  Plants here include low bush blueberry, germander, caryopterist, nepeta blue wonder, veronica and, in the lowest, thinnest section mostly concealed by the next section above it, waldstinia and grape hyacinths.

The pile of rocks at the bottom of the picture is typical of what had to be dug out of the soil everywhere on the property in order to get a plant in the ground.  The very big rock further down and to the right has a smaller rock on top of it, both of them coming out of the same hole.  The big one weighs somewhere between 55 and 65 pounds.

This section is down the hill in front of the house, a border on one side of the walk that leads up to the house.  Down right is a row of Clara Curtis chrysanthemum, behind which are two hydrangea and, behind them a calycanthus.  Then, going up the hill next to the walk are iberis purity, miscanthus, florentinium yellow archangel, white bomb chrysanthemum,  perennial dianthus and veronica.

I started today the job of picking up all the rocks and smaller stones that were dug out of the ground during the planting.  There enormous numbers of them, but I have another outdoor art project going on that will absorb most if not all of them.  I'm not sure when it will be finished but pictures will be posted once it's far enough along to be comprehensible and, of course, when it's finished.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

 
We are experiencing a very heavy year for ticks here in southern New Hampshire.  These tiny insects
arachnids, many even smaller in scale than the female deer tick in the photograph below, can carry Lyme Disease that can be successfully treated, but that can also be debilitating for many years.  Now there's also a kind of super tick that can carry several very problematic diseases.  It has begun to spread through some areas of the country
 
The last couple of years we've had ticks on the property but they weren't too big a problem -- I might have found four on me during the course of a summer.  This summer is something else again.  I consider it a good day when I don't find two ticks on me, and on one day I found three.  Fritz and I check each other out after we've been working outside and we frequently discover them while they're still just walking around on our bodies looking for a good place to start digging in.

I'm a bug magnet; they just love me and I usually joke that "they must love Italian food."  But it's very bad this year, and last night as I was getting undressed, I looked down and there was one beginning to attach itself to that which most men consider their most valuable personal possession -- I was not a happy man.


I have a small plastic tool called a Ticked Off, a hemispheric bowl on a handle with a narrow V-shaped notch in the bowl. The idea is to slide the notch under the tick and capture it in the tight point of the V, then slowly rock the bowl back, pulling the tick out and hoping that all of it detaches.  If the tick has been burrowed in for too long, the powerful pincers anchored in the flesh may not give way and the body will separate from the head that remains embedded.

The Place of Execution

Ticks are notoriously difficult to kill.  You can't squeeze or crush them to death the way you can kill most bugs.  People have dropped them into alcohol or gasoline.  People have taken a lighted match and placed it on the tick while still attached to a person, risking a burn in order to kill it.  So far, the quickest and easiest way to kill a tick we have found is to carry it in the bowl of the Ticked Off to our Aga kitchen stove (or cooker, since it is an English product).  There are no open flames on an Aga; you cook on cast iron plates that are at 350 and 750 degrees.  We open the insulated lid on the 750 degree plate, shake the tick out of the Ticked Off bowl onto the plate, and close the lid.  The tick is incinerated.  If we're a bit slow on closing the lid, we'll hear the tick explode with an audible pop.  It couldn't happen to a more deserving insect arachnid.*

* With thanks to Doug Taron of Gossamer Tapestry for pointing out that insects have six legs, while the eight legs of the tick place it in the same family as spiders.  Still doesn't make me like ticks any better!

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This lovely plant is a Clivia which was given to Fritz by a friend at Quaker Meeting some time late in the winter.  In the very late spring, he likes to put our house plants outside and this one is placed where we can see it from the house easily.  I always think Clivia sounds like a Roman Empress.

On Friday, we're receiving a delivery of 164 perennials and woody shrubs which will pretty much finish up the five year plan for landscaping the property and establishing specific garden areas.  There may well be a couple of ornamental trees coming next fall, but essentially we're finishing the five year plan in three years. The early finish is my doing,  because I don't mind good honest hard work and because I didn't see the need to drag the project out as long as five years.  I'm very excited about seeing everything in place.  Despite not having the best soil here (of course we reinforce it with composted manure) just about everything is thriving.  Pictures in the next post.   

Monday, July 04, 2011

 

Happy 4th of July!

A very happy 4th of July to everybody, with a little something in the patriotic spirit thanks to blogger and Facebooker Mark Anthony Lennon from Southport near Liverpool, UK. who posted the picture for all his mates in the US.

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