Saturday, July 30, 2011

Society of Illustrators: 63rd St between Park and Lexington

It is still amazing to me how almost every neighborhood, in fact seemingly almost every few blocks, NYC has something neat to discover.  In a neighborhood just a few blocks north of Bloomingdales, I came across the the Society of Illustrators and their wonderful current exhibit of cover art for pulp fiction.

Other than the movie, I had never really heard about pulp fiction, so it was interesting to learn that the first comics that moved from news papers to their own "books" or comic books were the first pulp fiction.  From the 1920s through the 1940s, pulp fiction was in its hey day.  Magazine stands were covered with these cheap forms of entertainment (remember there were no to few TVs and during part of this time the Depression made leisure activities something to be treasured) made from wood pulp.

Artists that painted cover art for these magazines and book conversions (like the Tarzan serial that became an adventure book--see right), were considered the lowest of the commercial artists.  They were looked down upon in the art community and they mostly were embarrassed by or ashamed that they were doing these pieces to pay the rent and buy food.  A cover art piece would earn the artist between $50-$100, which was huge money at that time (as a point of reference, a subway token was 5 cents as compared with today's $2.25), but none of the pulp fiction artists were highly regarded and many of them did not sign their work.

Because, like the magazines, pulp fiction art was considered disposable, most of the art was lost. Nobody wanted to save and store the artwork.  Sometimes artists would paint right over prior work for the next job.  Tragically, I learned that when Conde Nast bought a comic book publishing company in NYC, they cleaned out the storage space by leaving hundreds of paintings on Madison Avenue to be picked up by trash collectors! 

The artwork on display at the Society of Illustrators is wonderful.  They are vivid (there was a science and method to the pulp art after they discovered that bright colors like red on shirts and dresses and yellow backgrounds best caught consumers' attentions--and their nickels).  They are dramatic.  They capture the imagination (mostly of young adolescent boys--ergo the voluptuous damsels in distress--see left).  They illustrate a time in this country's history where escapism was needed and pulp fiction and pulp art filled this need.

If you are in the neighborhood, take the time to visit and you won't be disappointed.  Their current exhibit includes wonderful pulp art and movie artifacts (see Robby the Robot model at right) that you can visit for free!  And amazingly, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they have sketch sessions with live models that you can attend for a nominal $15 fee.  This little brownstone on the upper east side is a hidden gem that shouldn't be missed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Museum at Eldridge St: Eldridge St and Canal

This National Historic Landmark in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is a beautiful Orthodox synagogue that has been around since 1887.  With its Romanesque and Moorish details, 50' vaulted ceilings and stunning stained glass windows (old and new), the Eldridge Street Synagogue lets visitors take a peak at NYC immigrant and religious history.

Although the neighborhood has long since stopped being a center for Eastern European Jews and is now resoundingly part of Chinatown, this museum gets its fair share of visitors.  When I went on a Monday (tours are free on Mondays) morning, there were about a dozen people led around by two docents (both members of the flourishing, posh Central Synagogue -- there is a waiting list to become a member there!).

Besides its beautiful architecture, stenciled walls (see stencils used in restoration at left), faux marble painted columns, original chandeliers and light fixtures (see right), and time-worn original wonky wood floors, the most breathtaking and other-worldly piece of art is in the newly added stained glass celestial window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans (see below).

What I thought was such a pity is that the docent informed us that the congregants do not actually worship in this beautiful part of the synagogue, except on High Holidays.  Rather, because the congregation has decreased to a mere 25-30 members, they meet downstairs in the basement level using a small bimah (like altar) that was moved (for $3) from another synagogue that used to be on Allen Street just a few blocks away.

When the docent explained to us the placement of the main bimah in the middle of the synagogue on the main floor (see right), it made me ponder what this place must have been like in its hey day.  The middle of the room placement was to enable the rabbi to keep an eye on the male congregants (women are in the balcony separated from the men on the main floor in Orthodox synagogues) during long services and prevent them from talking finance, gossiping, etc.  I suppose when this synagogue was bustling, there was a need for longer.

If you are in the neighborhood, you could combine a visit to this beautifully restored synagogue along with a visit of the nearby Tenement Museum and make a wonderful day of it all.  Don't forget to stop into one of the numerous Chinatown neighborhood bakeries for some red bean buns or other pastries--they really are fabulous.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

American Museum of Natural History: 81st St and Central Park West

I've been to the American Museum of Natural History a few times, and each time I go I get overwhelmed with all that the museum has to offer.  I mean really, they start with dinosaurs and end with outer space (at the Hayden Planetarium--catch the IMAX movie)!  So this time I decided to go with a kind of goal.  I did a scavenger hunt with Watson Adventures and it was terrific.  I saw parts of the museum that I had never seen before, and although my team came in second to last, we had a good time running around the museum discovering interesting things throughout.

Of course we saw the numerous dioramas of animals (see above and right).  And as we went through the elephant room, my 19 year old nephew (who can hardly be called a museum fan) declared that this was the best museum he'd EVER been to.  High praise, indeed!

The museum was absolutely packed (more so than I had ever experienced, although it is generally crowded on the weekends).  I think the outside temperatures over 100 degrees drove everyone to indoor attractions.  In fact, there were a few parts of the museum that could not keep the air conditioners running strongly enough to counteract the heat from all the bodies.

If you, your kids, or adults in your life are interested in dinosaurs (see T-Rex at left), outer space travel, gem stones, wild animals, forests, underwater sea life, or anything else that is of nature, this is the Mecca of natural history for you.  If, like me, you are overwhelmed by large museums, consider taking a guided tour, participating in a scavenger hunt, or signing up for a special museum event like the Night at the Museum sleepovers (Yes, you may remember that the movie "Night at the Museum" was set at this world famous museum).

This is definitely a don't miss location in NYC.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

African Burial Ground: Broadway and Duane St

"Unearthed" by Frank Bender
The African Burial Ground was discovered in lower Manhattan in 1991, when during excavation work for a new federal office building at 290 Broadway, workers discovered the skeletal remains of the first of 419 men, women and children (41% were children, indicative of the hardships endured by child slaves). During the 17th and 18th centuries, free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6 acre burial ground outside the then-current boundaries of the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (which later became New York under British rule). Over the centuries, the unmarked cemetery was covered over by development and landfill (although I am skeptical that no other developers found skeletal remains previously--seems more likely to be numerous cover ups to me). The General Services Administration (GSA) works with the National Parks Service (NPS) to support and administer the African Burial Ground. 

The skeletons and the artifacts (like buttons, beads and jewelry found with the remains) were excavated and sent down to Howard University in D.C. for study.  Afterwards, following a 6 day memorial/celebration from D.C. to NYC, they were returned in crypts buried in seven burial mounds at the African Burial Ground just to the east of the monument (see right).   The monument is striking with its towering black marble and circular walled walkway etched with numerous symbols from the African diaspora (where Africans were dispersed around the world as slaves) like the Sankofa symbol (heart-shaped and shown on the main part of the monument) which loosely means: go back to the past to improve the future. 

I first visited the new visitors center (opened in 2010) and saw the artifacts, displays that illustrated the re-internment celebrations, and the depictions of the hard life of freed and enslaved Africans in NYC.  Did you know that the children of freed Africans were born into slavery?  Or did you know that NY state had more slaves than any other state other than South Carolina?  I had generally thought of the North as populated by abolitionists, but I suppose that was in the latter part of the 1800s, and it seems to me that history books seem to completely omit this earlier American history. The visitor's center regularly shows a 20 minute film that tells of the discovery of the African Burial Ground and the incredible hardships that were endured by millions of Africans and African Americans (see photo at top of a burial reenactment of a funeral of a child and adult slaves that is in the visitor's center and also in the film).  

I next went next door to the GSA federal building, going through security telling them I wanted to look at the art in the lobby.  There I saw moving commissioned art (see above left for an example) and displays that further described the history of the African Burial Ground along with models of the crypts and examples of the African boxes used for the re-internment (see right). I thought it was a pity that these displays were basically left in the corner with no one really appreciating them (why weren't they added to the visitor's center?).

I rounded out my visit with one final look at the monument and 7 mounds marking where the crypts were buried, and I thought to myself that this area marks the existence and lives of the first of millions of African Americans in this country.  Although not similar to Ellis Island in that those ancestors immigrated into this country freely, the African Burial Ground is rightly preserved and cared for by the same NPS and its rangers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: Ferry from Battery Park

If you've never been or haven't been to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island since 2004 (when the statue re-opened with new security measures), it is time to go.  You can buy tickets the day of (even in the height of the summer), but you need to plan ahead and purchase tickets weeks/months in advance online at Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tours if you want to go up to the torch as the number of visitors is severely restricted for safety/evacuation reasons.  There are several online sites that sell these tickets, but this is the official site and offers the cheapest rates.

When you visit, if you want to have enough time to visit both islands, you will need to get going before 11 and not expect to finish until after 3.  Yes, it is a full day, and a tiring one at that--if the heat doesn't get you, the amount of walking may.  I've gone without getting the audio tour, and was able to get the full experience by reading the plentiful signage, but if you want a less labor-intensive visit, splurge and get the audio tour (it is worth it).

HINT: Definitely enjoy the views of downtown Manhattan (see below) and the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, but when the ferry gets close to each island, get close to the exiting doors so that you can get your audio guide quickly and avoid the crowds/lines.

With the audio tour, we got the statistics of the Statue (e.g., height of Statue is 151 ft., in 50 mph winds, the torch sways up to 6 inches, the copper skin is the thickness of 2 pennies--3/32 of an inch), the history of the statue, and the accompanying bronze sculptures of the internal structure designer (Alexandre Gustave Eiffel), designers (Edouard de Laboulaye and Frederic Auguste Bartholdi), and the writer whose famous poem about the Statue of Liberty, "The New Colossus": "...Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free....") helped make the Statue on icon (Emma Lazarus).  We were lucky enough to also catch the national parks ranger's tour of the Statue of Liberty.  He was really informative, had a conversational style, and got the group involved in the tour. 

The line to get back on the ferry to go to Ellis Island was really long, but it moved quickly (although you felt like cattle being moved from one corral to another).  Once on Ellis Island, we moved through the Ellis Island Immigration Museum following the audio guides through the first and second floors (see Registry Room at right).  Then we went up to the third floor to check out the artifacts (see period clothing display below) and art installations (including a separate wing dedicated to Bob Hope and his work with the USO) that are not part of the audio tour. 

Whether or not you are a descendant of one of the immigrants who came through this port of entry (12 million came through Ellis Island between 1892-1954), what these brave people went through (they gave intelligence and literacy tests, and conducted health examps--using a shoe-hook to check immigrants' eyes!) is awe inspiring.  All in all, it is incredibly moving. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Castle Clinton: Battery Park

Castle Clinton (named after former NYC mayor and governor DeWitt Clinton) has had many lives.  While it may not be the most glamorous place today, its rich history should not be ignored and it takes just a few minutes to take a contemplative view of the place.

It started as a fort in 1811-1822 as part of a five-fort defensive system for the port of New York around the time of the War of 1812 (see above diorama of the fort, which was connected to Manhattan only by a bridge).  From 1824-1854, it was renamed Castle Garden and was a place where famous artists performed and heads of state and heroes were greeted in the City of New York (see diorama at right of the fort connected to Manhattan by landfill).  Castle Garden was next an immigration center for the next 35 years.  During that period 2 of every 3 immigrants came through Castle Garden.  From 1896 through 1941 it became the New York City Aquarium with sea life first from around the New York area and later from around the world.  After the aquarium was dismantled (with the sea life dispatched to the Bronx Zoo and Coney Island) the fort was saved from the wrecking ball by a citizens group that was able to get it designated as a national monument in 1946. 

Today, Castle Clinton is a historic site where you can learn a little about the history of the fort, but most just use it as a will call for tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  People just walk by this little piece of history without much thought, but I would recommend taking an extra few minutes to appreciate the the fort which helped protect this city and allowed it to develop into what it is today.  Look at the cannon (see left), the original rock wall foundations and the dioramas (they're free).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nintendo World Store: 48th St btwn 5th and 6th Aves

I don't normally review stores or restaurants--there are plenty of bloggers who do that and I didn't think I needed to add to the mass.  However, if you have a Pokemon fan in your circle, you must stop by the Nintendo World Store by Rockefeller Center in NYC.  There you will see a whole floor dedicated to Pokemon.  Ok, it takes the unusual fan to stay with this franchise beyond elementary school, but I know at least a few teenagers and even a college student or two who love Pokemon.

There is a Pokemon Center with action figures (see right), baskets filled with plushes (see left), and even a central playing zone where visitors can play sample games.

I'm certainly no expert, but if you know a fan, this store is a place not to be missed!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New York Hall of Science (Queens): 111th St and 42nd Ave

If you have young kids, the New York Hall of Science in Queens is a fantastic place to visit with them. They have two floors and wide open outdoor space (not available in Manhattan) filled to the brim with fun interactive and educational things to do.  In addition to the almost innumerable interactive activities (some of which are listed below), there are also mini golf around a yard that includes space shuttle replicas! 

There are areas dedicated to illustrating natural networks, optical illusions, molecules, underwater life, sports physics (like reaction times for hitting the gas in a simulated auto race or the difference in bounce based on the firmness or softness of the floor/resistance -- see right), virtual arm wrestling, cow eye dissection demonstrations, rock climbing, tightrope walking (see below left), bungee jumping, a 4D simulator (like the ones at the Intrepid), scales that measures/estimates the amount of water or the number of molecules in your body, fun house mirrors, a pitching cage to show the difference in velocity when throwing different sized balls, and the list goes on and on.

It really is amazing how they thought of so many things to show and share.  I don't think I have ever seen such an aggregation of interactive educational things in my entire life.

The one thing I would caution if you are not coming as part of a school or camp group is that you may want to consider coming on a weekend when large groups may not be in attendance.  It is hard to control even a couple of youngsters so you can imagine what hoards of little ones might be like en masse.  I happened to visit on a weekday (mistakenly thinking that would be better than a weekend) and it was a bear trying to get around to see different things as children ran around in waves jumping in front of me at every turn.

In any event, if you get the chance to visit with a child (elementary school level would probably be best), it is certainly worth the $11 adult; $8 child cost of admission and it is conveniently located just 3 blocks from the #7 subway. Also make sure you leave a little time to check out the gift shop.  It has some unique geodes as well as some unusual gifts like astronaut ice cream -- much more unusual than the typical books and jewelry (which they have too).

New York City Police Museum: Old Slip and Whitehall St

I didn't know there was a New York City Police Museum until I noticed it on a google map when I was searching for the location of the Museum of American Finance.  Of course upon reflection I should have guessed if there was a NYC Fire Museum there would be a comparable one for the Police....  ;)

I was impressed with the top (3rd) floor that was dedicated to 9/11 and the 27 officers who lost their lives to aid and save others in the tragedy.  They had some great videos, artifacts like flag fragments and parts of police cars salvaged from the landfill, and some touching memorials (see steel cross welded by an officer from a fragment of the World Trade Center at right). There was also an expansive wall that showed all the changes/advancement in the work of the police force in NYC post 9/11 to improve their preparedness and ability to react to any future.  It was all quite moving and made me proud (again) to be an American.

The second floor had many historical artifacts.  There were great historical uniforms, including one that was displayed a police matron uniform (see left).  This was of particular interest to me, as I had not known what the difference was between a police matron and a police woman (other than perhaps when the positions became available).  I was surprised to find out that the first police matrons came into being after a police officer was convicted of molesting a 15 year old girl at a station house in 1890.  Against a great deal of protest from policemen ranks, it was decided that the growth in the number of women going to jail (including the homeless--not prisoners) called for separate male and female cells and police matrons to oversee women.

There was also an amazing collection of weapons, both official as well as those confiscated from gangs (see baton sticks, spiked belt and cuffs, brass knuckles, etc. at  right).  There was an interesting history of the way the first gangs in New York were formed and how they operated.  I liked the authentic jail cell where you can experience how it is behind bars as well as the funny little place where you could take a picture alongside props as though you were getting a mug shot taken (a fun and easy way to get souvenirs of your visit).

On one side of the main lobby level, there are lots of old uniforms, weapons, and artifacts like a collection of the 8-pointed star badges and the "rattles" (see left) that were used by the first "police" of NYC (called the Rattle Watch, as they carried rattles to alert and call for help from nearby residents when they came across criminal activity).  It was amazing to me that in the early 1600s the "force" was originally a group of nine men who were not armed and not compensated.

The other side of the lobby had displays of some beautiful vintage motorcycles (this is the 100th anniversary of the first motorcycle police squads).  There is also a separate room dedicated to a learning and discovery zone for young kids called the Junior Officer's Discovery Zone (see left). 

So this museum has it all: artifacts from the early history of NYC, a memorial from 9/11 (as well as a room filled with badges from all of the officers who have ever lost their lives on duty, including those who died on 9/11), and a learning zone for young children. 

Tucked away on the east side of downtown, it could be overlooked, but it shouldn't be.  Take a peak and you'll find something to interest you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Museum of American Finance: Wall St and Williams St

Alexander Hamilton at Final Duel
In my touring around various downtown sites like Trinity Church & St. Paul's Chapel, Federal Hall, and Fraunces Tavern, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I have passed by the Museum of American Finance, but I was too tired or for one reason or another failed to go in. 

Aaron Burr at Fateful Duel
I finally decided to make a trip to go to the Museum of American Finance (Museum of American Finance Info) and after the visit today I wondered why I had delayed to visit.  It is a perfect complement to a visit to the New York Federal Reserve and if you can coordinate a visit to both, it would make for a wonderful few hours spent learning about the American financial system and its history.

Inside there is an area that is dedicated to Alexander Hamilton (from his birth in Nevis, to his untimely death at a duel against political rival Aaron Burr--see photos above and left), who is credited for much of the foundations of the American banking system. 

There is a large timeline on the back wall that tracks the market since the credit crisis beginnings in 2007, and there is a small alcove about the history of U.S. currency, including regional notes, fractional currency during the Depression, and even a dollar that is labelled "HAWAII" so that if we lost the islands in WWII that currency could be identified and disavowed (see right).

There is a wall also noting all of the major financial scandals, starting from Hamilton's days during the early years of the nation, through more recent events like the Lehman Brothers demise (see left) and the ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff.

Besides the explanations of the beginnings of the equities and bond markets, the mercantile commodities exchange, and the options market (which were very educational), there was a constantly changing sign that calculated our national debt.  When I was at the museum yesterday, July 13, 2011 around 1:49 pm EST, the debt tally was at $14,411,408,925,789 and about 4 seconds later, it had increased by $92,003!  Amazing and horrifying.  How are we ever going to service this debt and lower it?!

If you have an interest in money (yes, you know some of you do even if you are unwilling to admit to it at parties or in front of friends), this museum is a definite "must see."  It is educational, fascinating, and may raise your attention to the financial pickle this country is currently in.  If none of this interests you, you may appreciate its location in an old Bank of New York; it is beautiful and intentionally very grand inside.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Intrepid Museum: 46th St and 12th Ave

It was over 12 years ago that I was last at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (Intrepid Museum) and boy has it ever been improved.  I went for the 10 am opening on Friday and there was already a long line to get in.  Luckily, I had pre-purchased tickets online (saving $2/ticket) and the will-call line was almost non-existent (Advance Purchase).  What a great way to start our exploration.

When we got through security and up to ticketing, I splurged and bought the special 3-pack for the simulators--after all, I was with my teenage nephew and the simulators were the real attraction for him.  Actually, we went straight there (obviously no lines with us being the first ones in) and I LOVED it. 

The G-Force Simulator puts 2 people in a pod at a time, one is the pilot while the other is the gunner.  The pod is on a kind of extended arm that allows the pod to be moved from left to right and even upside down.  There was a lot of excited screaming from inside our pod and we had a great time, although I don't think we were able to successfully shoot any enemy planes down.  It is a wild ride and for entertainment for those waiting in line there is a screen that shows all the stuff going on in the pod--quite embarrassing for those of us squealing like a baby!

We then went across the aisle to the XD Theater where there was a nice, lengthy 3D movie in a theater filled with chairs that are moved in synch with the film.  Combined with air pumped in to simulate wind rushing through your hair, the movie of traveling via a roller coaster in the future was so realistic I couldn't stop whooping and hollering with excitement.

We then took a tour of the rest of the ship.  The helicopters and planes (including a stealth bomber, an A-12 Blackbird, that can travel at mach 3 (3 times the speed of sound) see right) on the flight deck were impressive. 

The combat information center (see left), radar data room, and cryptology rooms let us step back into time and experience first hand what working on this ship among the 3,388 crew might be like.  The interactive stations explaining how ballast works and how Morse code was used were educational and interesting.

It was a warm day so we didn't spend as much time in the non-air-conditioned areas as we might have had we come on a cooler day, but we did manage to also check out the British Airways Concorde (from the outside only, as an inside tour is reserved for guided tours at an additional cost -- I have my limits to "add ons" and "extras"-- although I suppose the tour is much cheaper than the average transatlantic Concorde airfare at $6,000) which is capable of mach 2.04, and the Transporter FX Simulator (this was another 3D movie with some historical storytelling and the least dramatic of the 3 simulators) on the pier.

Due to the exceedingly long lines at the Growler Submarine (see right) (I would recommend doing this first if you are interested and are at the museum early and then jumping to the simulators on the Hangar Deck), we opted to skip it and head out for lunch.  There are lots of good neighborhood restaurants on 10th Street, and I highly recommend doing that and skipping the Au Bon Pain at the museum.

All in all, it was a great museum visit and I would recommend doing this with kids, interested adults, and people interested in trying out some great simulators (beware if you are prone to motion sickness).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art: Broadway btwn Houston and Prince

You could pass by this museum a hundred times and never notice it; I have.  In the heart of a great shopping area in SoHo, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA; hours of operation are limited so check out the website for current details) is located on the 4th floor of an office building.  If you didn't know it was there, you'd never be able to just accidentally discover it--what a shame.

The current exhibit (through August 14, 2011) of over 100 pieces is called "William Eisner's New York: From the Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel" (a form Eisner was key in popularizing). 

It highlights the creation of Eisner's legendary superhero "The Spirit" (see above), displays Eisner's portrayal of his beloved NYC (with all of its ups, downs, diversity, unique cycles in development and deterioration, etcetera) (see "Empty Street" and "Angry Street" at right, which both include self-portraits of the artist), and also shows examples of his graphic novels, including "A Contract with God" that puts a critical eye on Jewish-American life in early 20th century America.  Eisner, raised in a Bronx tenement during the Depression, depicts a NYC full of drama, desolation, and humor (there was a funny/ironic piece poking fun at the lack of privacy in NYC and another that reflected the quality of housing in tenements as compared to prison).

The exhibit also includes a small area of graphic art created by artists influenced by Eisner (see left) like Art Spiegelman and Harvey Kurtzman.  Finally, there is a looped video about William Eisner, his life and work.

This is a tiny, one room museum, but it is well-worth the $6 admission if you are interested in animation, cartoons or graphic art.  Take a look at this hidden gem if you are in the hood and have an interest.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Apollo Theater: 125th Street by Frederick Douglass Blvd

Taking a historical tour of the famous Apollo Theater given by "Mr. Apollo" himself, Billy Mitchell (who has had a connection with the Apollo that spans over 40 years) is a one-of-a-kind experience.  If you can plan a little ahead of the time and reserve a spot on a scheduled tour (Apollo Tours), it is really is worthwhile.

The tour starts off with a very personal introduction of everyone on the tour; Billy introduced me as his "sister from another mother (LOL!)."  He makes everyone feel welcome and then starts the tour with a monologue about his history with the Apollo, the theater's history, the history of burlesque and theaters and the history of African Americans in NYC.

He then started to get the group engaged.  He asked each group to send up representative performers to sing, dance, tell jokes, etcetera.  If one chose, one could actually rub the "Tree of Hope Stump" (see my rub for good luck at left) and perform "live at the Apollo!"

After a handful of amateur performances, we went on stage and got a performer's perspective (see right).  Then we got to see the wall of fame which includes the signatures of almost all of the visitors to the Apollo in the last 10 years (if you look closely, you may be able to make out Barack and Michelle Obama's signatures--see below left).  Then we took a peak at the back stage dressing rooms (most were in their original condition--other than the addition of through the wall air conditioning units). 

Billy shared with us that most of the famous recent performers like Sting, Wynton Marsalis, and Beyonce invariably wanted to use the old dressing rooms (rather than the updated ones) to feel connected with all the old legends like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Aretha Franklin, who have performed at the Apollo throughout its history.

Toward the end of the tour, Billy spent some time describing the collages of the innumerable celebrities who have performed at the Apollo (see right).  This part of the tour was fantastic, with Billy and several of the older touring visitors singing along to the homage of all the unforgettable songs sung here.  It is truly amazing how many stars like Billy Holiday, Tony Bennett, and Ella Fitzgerald were discovered here on the "Amateur Night At the Apollo," which started over 77 years ago under African American producer and radio host, Ralph Cooper. 

Please make a trip to visit the Apollo, whether it is to catch a performance or take a historic tour.  You're bound to get a memorable experience.  And remember that just down the block is the Studio Museum of Harlem--you can make this a Harlem two-fer visit!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Citizen Pruner In Action (II): Various

BEFORE: Tree Pit Littered With Cigarette Butts, Broken Glass, Trash, Weeds, and
Tree Sprouts (a tree's defense mechanism to try to save itself in harsh conditions)
Some of you may be wondering whatever happened to my goal to become a Citizen Pruner.  Well, a few weeks ago I graduated and I am now an officially licensed Citizen Pruner.  That's right, I attended classes, did some field work, and took and passed a test to become a volunteer in the City to help take care of the trees that line the streets.

AFTER: Pruned Tree and
Cleaned Up and Planted Tree Pit
Explanatory Background: When I moved back to NYC in 2005, I did so with my little suburbanite dog, Biscuit.  She was definitely not used to the sights, smells, traffic, and noise in the City, but the most pressing drama revolved around the lack of grass and trees so that she could do her business (I lived on Park Avenue south of Grand Central and there were few non-cemented or asphalted areas in the neighborhood).  I found myself pleading with her (okay, once I even cried because I missed my train to go to work waiting for her to go) and trailing other owners and their dogs, hoping my Biscuit would get the idea of what she needed to do by watching others. 

So when I heard about the Citizen Pruner Program and my schedule permitted, I decided to go for it and give back to the City in a way that was meaningful to me and Biscuit.  Through this program I learned about how to identify and care for street trees that provide shade, clean our air, reduce noise pollution, add to the beauty and livability of NYC, and, of course, provide spots for our beloved animals to relieve themselves (although the salt in their waste really hurts the trees if there is not enough water to diffuse the effects--ergo all of the "Curb Your Dog" signs).

AFTER: Beautified Tree Pit.  Hopefully the
Flowers Grow and People will Refrain from Trashing This
For those who want to commit less time, but would like to help, there is an Adopt a Tree Program.  In addition to being a Citizen Pruner, I've adopted a tree (Trees NY provides volunteers with free hand gardening tools), and I think even the little work I've done has made a big difference (see left). 

So New Yorkers, don't just talk about how great NYC is, do something to help improve it.  Adopt a tree, don't throw litter on the ground (my gosh there is a trash can at every corner--use them), smile as you walk around, and enjoy!