Thursday, October 27, 2011

Center for Jewish History: 16th St and 5th Ave

If you have an interest in Jewish history, genealogy, and the diaspora, the Center for Jewish History, the Leo Baeck Institute, and the Yeshiva University Museum (all co-located) is your place.  They have an extensive collection of historic documents, research facilities, interesting displays describing the diaspora (I especially liked the exhibits about the Jews of Morocco), the emigration from Nazi Germany and post-Holocaust, and even some Israeli military artifacts (like the summer uniform, which resembles boy scout hiking uniforms to me, at right). 

There are luminous manuscripts, of course, but what I found the most interesting were the documents and displays describing the Jewish search (and many near misses) for an internationally recognized "homeland."  I had no idea that they had looked at, among other locations, Uganda, Angola (from the Portuguese), Surinam (from the Netherlands), Cyrenaica (from Turkey) and even Western Australia!  The correspondence between Jewish organizations and foreign governments about various locations is eye-opening.

At the Yeshiva University Museum, currently (the first two through early January 2012 and the last through April 8, 2012), there are modern exhibits of "Jews on Vinyl," "Prophesy of Place," and "Graphic Details."  I must admit that the first two did not really speak to me, but the "confessional comics by Jewish women" were funny and insightful.  There was one series that illustrated the river viewpoint of a woman who was stood up by a date that was particularly poignant (see below).

There are free guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 am, and admission is free on Fridays.  If you have any interest in the Jewish history (past and present) I would highly recommend a visit.  It covers a lot of ground in meaningful ways and does not get "stuck" on a single message.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe Cottage (Bronx): E Knightsbridge and Grand Concourse

This 5-room cottage, built in 1812, was Edgar Allan Poe's last home.  He moved here with his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm in 1844 in the hopes that the move would help cure his wife's tuberculosis (called consumption at the time because it was believed to have been caused by the consumption of polluted industrial air).  Back then, this area was rolling farmland and this was a typical working-class house in the village of Fordham.

Unfortunately, just two years after they moved in, Virginia passed away in the first floor bedroom (her rope bed is one of the few original Poe family furnishings still maintained at the home by the Bronx County Historical Society that operates the cottage for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation that owns it).  Also original are the desk and the rocking chair in the parlor (see right); other furniture in the cottage are period, but not original to the Poes.

Although Poe's literary genius was recognized during his lifetime, he was not well compensated during his life and he lived in poverty after he was disowned by his adoptive parents after years of familial discord.  He was able to live in this small cottage through the kindness of a major landowner in the area, Isaac Valentine (you may also want to visit the Valentine-Varian House Museum nearby).

Thank goodness for us all that Mr. Valentine made it possible for Poe to continue his writing.  In the cottage, Poe wrote, among other things, "The Bells," "Eureka," "Annabel Lee," and "The Cask of Amontillado."  A poet, a detective fiction writer, and science fiction writer, Poe's talents were amazing.  What a pity that at the young age of 40, he passed away while on a lecture tour in Baltimore (mystery still surrounds the cause of death).

The house will finally be open to the public in a couple of weeks after about a year of renovation and restoration (I took advantage of a preview during the 2011 Historic House Festival this past weekend).  Although it is a tiny cottage, I would highly recommend a visit if you are a literary fan.  One can almost imagine how it must have been for Poe to write at his desk and have his mother-in-law read drafts (as she was known to do) in the rocking chair by the fireplace.  This is a great little gem in the City that is at long last going to be accessible again. Yay.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Art Classes in NYC: Various

Drawing Class at the Art Students League on 57th Street and 7th Avenue
I have been an art enthusiast all of my life.  With a little investigation, I have been able to find some great art classes that I think are uniquely available in a resource-rich city like NYC.

Watercolor of Peonies
I've taken a drawing and collage studio course at the MOMA.  They were in the evenings once a week for a couple of months and they included after hours access to the galleries in our private class group with an assigned security guard!

I've taken a one-off painting course at Paint Along.  This is a low commitment, fun commercial class that could be fun for a group of friends or a couple to do together.

I've taken a Korean folk art water color painting class called minwha at the Korea Society (see my last project at right).  There are various courses at numerous cultural centers around the City to match almost any interest.  It just takes some hunting on the internet.

Currently I am enrolled in a full-time anatomical drawing class at the Art Students League. For a mere $200 I attend classes taught by professional artists and monitored by 1-2 assistants Monday through Friday for 3 1/2 hours a day for a whole month.  What a bargain!  Also, you should know that they have a gallery and a small but well-stocked art supply shop open to the public with the best prices in town (see below left).  For the commitment phobic, you might also try the model drawing classes hosted by the Society of Illustrators twice a week for $15 a session.

Art Students League Store
Finally, this November I am taking a two-weekend intensive jewelry making class at the Pratt Institute.  I discovered this when I visited the gallery down at their Manhattan campus in Chelsea.  I've never really made jewelry (yes, I've strung beads and made a couple of earrings from the handmade African paper beads I purchased at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) but that was a one-off thing that I MacGyvered on my own).

There are also places one can try ceramics, photography, glass blowing (Kim Fraczek teaches in Brooklyn--she hosted a booth at the Maker Faire), cooking (try the Institute of Culinary Education's recreational classes), music lessons, etc.  I don't think I could do all of the options justice without starting a new blog, so I thought I would just write this entry to let folks know that there are tons of enrichment classes available in NYC.  They are taught by real professionals, and if you are in the City, they are definitely worth a try.

Prices vary from around $400 for 8, 2-hour sessions to as low as $200 for a Monday-Friday 3 1/2 hour sessions for a whole month of classes.  If you want to just dip a toe in, you might also join in for the free Crafternoons at the New York Public Library once a month (I'm going this Saturday) or go to one of the open sketch Sundays or Saturdays at one of the numerous museums (like the Frick) around the City (check out their websites for details).

The thing is, all of these enrichment classes are available at all price points in NYC.  It really is a tremendous resource that should not be overlooked.  Take a chance and try one. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

NYC Parades: Various

A couple of weeks ago, there was a Korean Times Parade down 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) from 38th Street and 27th Street.  Two days ago, there was a Nigerian Pride Parade down 2nd Avenue from 55th Street and 47th Street (see photos throughout).  Today, there is a Columbus Day Parade down 5th Avenue from 43rd Street and 72nd Street.  I didn't know that there were so many parades until I happened to be face to face to one just by chance.  If you live in NYC, culture can actually come to you!

However, if you would like to see what might be available in the NYC neighborhood you live in or are visiting, you can check out the NYC government website.  If you are interested in the largest parades, a simple aggregation lists like Big NYC Parades also works.  In any event, you'll be amazed at all that this large, diverse city has to offer in the way of celebratory parades.

They are not all grand (although many of them, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Gay Pride Parade, the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and the Howloween costumed dog parade, are true spectacles), but they are all happy.  Who doesn't need more "happy" in their lives?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

NY Aquarium (Brooklyn): Surf Ave

I love aquariums and I didn't even know NYC had one until recently.  I love learning about the animals but even more I love just sitting and watching them swim and play.  It's mesmerizing.  HINT: If you have the flexibility to do so, try visiting the aquarium on a weekday.  There were only about 50 people in the entire park when I visited, which made gazing at the animals for long stretches completely acceptable.

The NYC Aquarium has educational components, like the coral labs which save wild coral reefs (see right), the descriptions of the effects of over-fishing, the use of sea horses in Chinese herbal medicine, and the economic support provided to indigenous populations when people buy pets like colorful Tetra fish from pet stores. 

There are also fabulous live action shows.  At the Aquatheater you can see California sea lions really perform with their trainers.  At various scheduled times of the day you can also watch the staff feed the sharks, walruses, sea otters, and penguins.  And in season, there are hands-on touch pools where kids (and adults) can experience "first hand" underwater animals.

However, my favorite parts of the aquarium are the large tanks of sea life.  Whether it is the mysterious sea urchins and corals or the ginormous walruses that swim right up and plaster themselves up against the gazing windows (as if asking for a belly rub) or the seductive sharks swimming with the large tortoises (see left), I was transfixed by the lulling motions of the animals and the water (many of the tanks have tide simulating water motion).  These animals are just awesome (in the true meaning of the word--not the way it is overused today).

Finally, for those who would like to try a 4D experience, the aquarium offers two short movies to choose from.  One is "Happy Feet" and the other is the "Curse of Skull Rock."  For a kiddie audience, I would recommend the first, but if you can take a little scare, try the second.  I was surprised by the spraying water and the sudden pokes in the back from the seating.  It was great fun and a nice break from walking around the park.  It's worth the extra admission price.

Ok, I loved the aquariums so much that I decided to just post a few more pictures to share their beauty....  Enjoy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Coney Island (Brooklyn): Surf Ave

Coney Island Boardwalk

The famed Coney Island has been refurbished and is a fantastic place to spend a sunny day.  On a simple 45 min - 1 hour subway ride you can get to this beautiful beach from midtown Manhattan.  The boardwalk is wide, provides breathtaking views to the open sea (see left), and is lined with fun tourist shops and carnival-like food vendors (see above). 

Alongside the boardwalk is the Luna Amusement Park.  It includes the famous Deno's Wonder Wheel (Wonder Wheel built in 1920 and designated an official city landmark in 1989, it is 150 ft high, has a diameter of 140 ft, and holds up to 144 passengers in 16 swinging cars and 8 stationary cars with views of the Atlantic Ocean), and historic wood and steel Cyclone roller coaster (in operation since 1927 and once described by Charles Lindbergh as the 2 1/2 minute ride "more thrilling than flying solo across the Atlantic," see right), another 25 fun rides, 2 arcades, and an old fashioned Sweet Shoppe (this is not your cheap traveling carnival--this looks solid and nice but with a cool retro vibe).  Unfortunately when I was visiting mid-week it was not open, as they were preparing for the Halloween themed nights (check out

On weekends there is also a Coney Island Museum (Coney Island Museum) you can visit right across the street from the famous original Nathan's hotdog stand (where they have the annual hot dog eating contest--see the billboard with this year's winning consumption totals at left).

If you are interested in baseball, there is also MCU Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones (the minor league short season class A team affiliated with the Mets).  These games can be a great alternative to the pricey games at Shea or Yankee Stadiums, plus on Friday nights there are free fireworks (not to mention the phenomenal views of the ocean from the upper levels).

If you want good family fun, check out Coney Island--it's a step back in time but with modern conveniences (although I wouldn't use the public bathrooms by the beach unless I absolutely had to) and surrounded by natural beach beauty.  Also check out my next post on the adjacent NY Aquarium, which was wonderful.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Amster Yard: 49th and 3rd

Amster Yard is a historic hidden gem of a garden in the crazy, hectic midtown east area of NYC.  I recently read "Manhattan's Turtle Bay: Story of a Midtown Neighborhood" by Pamela Hanlon and discovered things about my neighborhood that I never knew before. 

The book starts with the history of the neighborhood with the dismantling of the infamous El elevated train, which brought light into the neighborhood.  Then it describes the development of a surprisingly stylish and elegant neighborhood population that cared about establishing gardens and maintaining the charm of old brownstone- and tree-lined streets.  The neighborhood's most renowned included actress Katherine Hepburn, writer Kurt Vonnegut, violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Mrs. Jean Mauze (aka "Babs" Rockefeller), and (key for Amster Yard) Turtle Bay Association founder James Amster.

I've lived in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan for over 5 years and had never ventured into Amster Yard.  It's entrance is not the most inviting, in that it was purchased from the original 20 houses that flanked it on the north and south by the Spanish cultural organization, Instituto Cervantes.  However, it is a lush well-maintained garden that is open to (if hidden from) the public.

While I understand the state of the surrounding building walls were so poor that the Instituto had to reconstruct everything from scratch, they managed to create an amazing replica.  Using original fountains and iron grillwork (see right) the garden was returned to its original glory for the enjoyment of generations to come.  The long L shaped courtyard appears even larger by the visual trick created by the original large mirror framed as an arch that was suggested to Amster by legendary interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe (see below left).

I haven't attended an event at the Instituto, but they seem to have a regular calendar of events including performances and films.  They also provide language classes and a lending library.  Like so many of the other ethnic or national societies that dot NYC (Korea Society, Ukranian Museum, and the Tibet House) this place has a plethora of resources just waiting for the plucking.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Smithsonian Museum Day: Various

About a week ago I went back to the The Morgan Museum on the Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day (this year it was September 24, 2011).  Ok, so this is not specific to NYC.  In fact, this was a special event day that was available all over the country.  But I thought I would a least let people know that this day of free museum entry to hundreds of museums was available to everyone.  That's right--free admission--to some of the best museums around the country.

I really wanted to re-visit The Morgan and see what had changed since my last visit, and I was not disappointed.  First I had a light lunch in the beautiful cafe, seated with a friend just in front of a gorgeous fireplace.  Then we went exploring. 

While photography is not generally permitted, the current exhibit of "Drawings for The Living Word" by Xu Bing in the entrance lobby area can be photographed.  While I could not fully capture the magical nature of how the Chinese calligraphy transformed in "flight" into birds, I tried to impart bits of the scene (see photos throughout this post).  I had vaguely known that some Chinese characters were originally derived from pictograms, but this art installation really brought it home.  The wooden Chinese letters hung in the air by transparent string changed steadily until they became little wooden birds.  Truly, you should go to the museum to see this first hand.  It is breathtaking.

There were other great exhibits (permanent in the older parts of the museum and temporary/changing in the newer parts of the museum), but I won't go through it all here.  Needless to say, I am a huge fan of this museum and highly recommend spending a couple of hours here (the collections are diverse and the museum size is very manageable--unlike the Metropolitan and the Natural History, which could really take a few days to see everything), especially if you get to visit for free!