My Town

I hadn’t intended to post for the September 11th anniversary, as it’s not something I do every year. I posted back in 2011 for the ten year remembrance but not since then. I think with the current global events and resurgence of terrorism threats, feelings of fear, anger, and unease have been triggered in many people – especially those of us who live and work in big densely populated cities.

There’s no question that the 911 attacks and their aftermath are deeply felt by all Americans. But it will always be different for New Yorkers; more acute, more personal, more harrowing. Unless you lived here at the time you can’t fully understand. I don’t mean in any way to diminish others’ feelings or ignore Shanksville and the Pentagon. I’d never do that. I’m just trying to express the unique and exceptional mindset of a unique and exceptional city that remains a bullseye for grievance-obsessed monsters. It is a city that will never stop inspiring people, a city that wallops its inhabitants with challenges and impossibilities, thrills and disenchantments, oddities and curiosities, scandals and triumphs, idealism and cynicism. We are a maddeningly paradoxical town, where neurosis and fortitude live side by side. We rebuild on top of rubble, and we hold up a collective middle finger to people who think they can destroy us. And to those who hate New York or don’t understand it, we respond in snippy Big Apple form: take it or leave it.

New York, by Franz Kline, 1953

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Love, peace, and blessings to all of you, on this day and every day …

Summer in Full Swing

Helloooooo friends! It seems that I left this blog in the hands of Gaston and Isabel for the past week. And what have I been doing in the meantime? Nothing particularly interesting. A little summer reading, a little gardening, a little bike riding.

As the hot temperatures have set upon us and a hurricane pounds up the east coast this Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to offer my yearly Auntie’s brag about my niece Olivia. She just completed the 6th grade with stellar marks and, to top it off, won the end of year award for “sportsmanship in softball”. Yeah Olivia! At the age of 11 she’s already a better athlete than I’ve ever been. My brother took this picture of Olivia at the last game of the season. As you can see, she’s contemplating her strategy for her next at bat. Love this girl :-)

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Olivia is now enrolled in summer day camp and having a blast. My brother is immersed in music composing jobs, my sister-in-law is doing some renovations at the country house in the Catskills, and Mom is working on paintings for her solo art show in the fall (more on that to come). As for me? Just taking life one day at a time, anticipating a summer of afternoon sunbathing in the park, some writing, volunteering, plenty of reading, visiting friends, going to church, and, lo and behold, some art modeling! Yes I actually have gigs booked in July. I had to hustle and harass for them, but I got them all the same.

I wish everyone a fabulous weekend whether you will have rain or shine, mild breezes or stuffy humidity. Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, be joyful, be grateful. I’ll see you all very soon. Peace, friends.

Central Park, New York City, July 4th, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, circa 1903:

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Miles Davis Way

Like most big cities, New York has its share of honorary street names. More than it’s share, really. Our city council has re-named so many streets in tribute to famous figures that’s it’s hard to keep track of all of them.  The standard for street re-naming according to the council is “proposed honorees must be individuals who are deceased and of significant importance to New York City.”  The names range from local politicians to military figures to contributors to the arts, academia, sports and finance. The sheer number of them is a testament to the historical and cultural breadth of our throbbing, humming city and how many noteworthy individuals have lived here, worked here, created here, and found inspiration among its people and neighborhoods.

East 110th St is “Tito Puente Way”. West 145th is “A. Philip Randolph Boulevard”. Broadway between 51st and 52nd is “Al Jolson Way”. West 31st St is “Father Mychal F. Judge Street”, in honor of the Fire Department Chaplain who was killed during the 9-11 attacks while administering last rites. These are just a few examples of many. Last week, the city unveiled its newest street honorific; “Miles Davis Way” on 77th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The jazz legend lived on the block for 25 years. It’s a cool honor for the man credited with the “birth of the cool”.

For Music Monday I’m posting a 1989 interview with Miles Davis from the 60 Minutes archives. Interviews with Miles Davis are quite rare, as he was not the most accessible or congenial fellow in the music business. However, I found this interview interesting in that you can see flashes of humor in Miles, and a sense that he’s putting us on a bit. And Harry Reasoner, in spite of some rather silly questions, deserves credit for getting the elusive Miles Davis to sit down for a face to face interview at all. They touch on race, music, art, women, and Miles’ past heroin addiction. Also, this isn’t the first time Miles Davis has been the subject of a Music Monday. Here’s my Museworthy post from March 2010 about Kind of Blue.

Sweet City Stroll

9:45 in the evening. I trot down the steps of the National Academy after posing for Michael Leigh’s watercolor class. Modeling bag slung over my shoulder, lightweight spring scarf knotted around my neck. Off I go, south on Fifth Avenue. One of the most famous streets in the world. It’s quiet. Upper east side quiet. And if you think that “upper east side quiet” doesn’t have a character uniquely its own then you don’t know New York City. Posh residential buildings on one side, Central Park on the other. Starry sky, gentle breeze, street lamps aglow, just a few lone souls here and there, discernible only by their movement in the urban shadows. Why are they out in the street at that time on a weeknight, on the slumbering, proudly and complacently not “happening” upper east side? Well .. I am. Why not them? On that mild spring night, I think about how many times I’ve made that walk. I couldn’t even count how many times. That short walk from 89th to 86th where I catch the crosstown bus.

I pass the Guggenheim, whose chalky white wedge of a daytime presence transforms into a darker, ghostlier, more abstract form when the sun goes down. An ambiguous, eerie grey structure of circular lines and shapes that dance with the night sky. I stare up at it and think how I like the Guggenheim better at night. It’s closed and sleeping, but like all of New York’s cultural institutions, it keeps the lights on in the foyer.

Calm and content from a super pleasant art class with super sweet people, my walk is a saunter. A post-modeling on my way home kind of saunter. The relaxed pace we assume when we take an all-too-familiar route. At that time of night it’s as close to soundless as you’ll ever get in New York. All I hear is the clunking of my boot heels on the sidewalk. And it sounds even more pronounced and echoey in the crisp quiet air. And I am reminded how much I love this city at moments like this. Across Fifth Avenue, in the dark in the park, I see the spinning red reflector of a bicyclist pedaling toward the reservoir. An evening workout. At the next corner, a white-haired man strolls with his senior golden retriever. The dog has a slight limp and the man patiently allows him to take his time, to stop and sniff, to lumber around and investigate those unseen things only dogs are aware of. An aging but pampered pooch. I think then that the dog has probably made that walk on that particular Fifth Avenue corridor even more times than I have.

I pass the apartment buildings. At each illuminated entryway the doorman peers out and glances at me. He realizes he’s seen me before on many a night. He nods. I nod. I go on my way. To 86th Street. And at that intersection emerges the bus. The big blue city beast pulling up to the corner, blocking my view of the Neue Galerie. Gotta catch the bus. I speed up my walking pace just a little while whipping my Metrocard out of my wallet. The bus doors open. “Hi!” I say cheerily. “Evening ma’am”, says the pretty darn handsome bus driver. Doors shut. Left turn, then right turn, and through the park. And the upper east side recedes away. Until next time, when modeling brings me back . . . which won’t be long.

Georgia O’Keeffe, City Night, 1926:

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Our Birds Besieged

What the hell. Have I left my little blog idle for almost a week? This is outrageous! Bad blogger. Bad bad blogger :lol:

Much badder than me is the Port Authority of New York, which has enlisted contractors to gun down over 18 species of migratory birds and waterfowl in the area of JFK Airport. Many of these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But they’re being shot anyway. The rationale behind this program is to prevent bird strikes on planes and nesting activities too close to runways. Didn’t the waterfowl get the memo? They cannot conduct their flying, migrating, mating, and nesting along the Atlantic coast or around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge unless they stay safely away from planes. That’s the rule. Because jet airliners own the skies now. Those foolish ospreys and herons and egrets have to understand that they must accommodate the needs of modern man, and the millions of years of instinctual behavior embedded in their DNA cannot be acted upon, their natural primordial impulses to survive and breed must be squashed. And those snowy owls that were nesting on top of a taxiway sign at JFK? Those dummies should have known better. Now they’re on the kill list too.

Herons, by Christian Rohlfs, 1936:

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I apologize for the sarcasm, as I don’t mean to minimize the issues with regard to bird strikes and airplane safety. But this wanton killing of our coastal feathered friends upsets me a great deal. Among the birds being targeted are herons, egrets, plovers, ravens, and the gorgeous American kestrel. And redwing blackbirds! They’re shooting redwing blackbirds for heaven’s sake. There must be a better way. Surely we can find a solution more humane than just blasting innocent birds out of the sky?

Winslow Homer, watercolor, Redwing Blackbirds:

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It was disturbing enough to learn recently that our magnificent North American eagles – hundreds of thousands per year – are being sliced up in the blades of wind turbines at wind farms throughout the country. Our government has now granted the wind energy companies permission to allow these deaths without fear of penalty, for the next 30 years. Ain’t that grand?

Geese In Flight Before A Full Moon, Ohara Koson:

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I love birds so much. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could not love them. They warble and sing outside my bedroom window every morning. They hop across my front lawn. They cheerfully perch in rows across telephone wires. They soar in the skies above my neighborhood. Eradicate all their colors, movements, and sounds from daily life and the absence would be sadly felt. And the observation of bird comings and goings inspires much of my other blog, The Salt Marsh. At this very moment as I’m typing on my laptop, one of those little downy woodpeckers is inching his way up the tree outside my kitchen. What a cutie :-)

At School With Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Hellooooooo!!! Greetings darling Museworthy readers. We are a few more days closer to spring since I last posted here. Ain’t that grand? I thought I saw some crocus bulbs poking out of the ground the other day. :happy dance:

My friend Francisco Malonzo was recently profiled in The Palette Pages with a splendid Q & A interview and magnificent images of his work. One of them is a portrait of yours truly that also appeared in this Museworthy post. More of Francisco’s paintings of me can be seen here and here. He and I have known each other for some time through the National Academy, and I’m delighted that he’s enjoying exposure and success :-)

Here in the Big Apple our newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio is waging a war against charter schools. The whole thing is a shitstorm of local politics that involves the teachers’ union, irate parents, and de Blasio’s personal vendetta against Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools. Lost in the midst of this imbroglio? The children of New York City, who deserve better. I was reminded the other day of an engraving I’d seen once by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Flemish painter and printmaker of the Northern Renaissance period. I found it on the Web. It’s called The Ass in the School, from 1556. The humorous scene depicts a classroom – more like a barn – of unruly children and a teacher about to discipline one with a spanking on his bare butt. A mysterious woman peers from behind a window, and a donkey, aka “the ass”, studies what appears to be sheet music from his perch. The inscription reads something to effect of “the ass goes to school but will never become a horse”.

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Bruegel could have been making a satirical statement about the folly of education, or rather certain aspects of it. Or perhaps a broad comment about human failings and our inherently flawed nature in the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch. If you enlarge the image and look closely, the faces of the “children” in the drawing don’t appear like true children but more like mini-adults. So Bruegel might be trying to suggest something there. Apart from the hidden commentary, the print is really great, in composition and character. Truthfully, I just wanted to post it because Bill de Blasio kind of looks like a donkey :lol:

Click on this link for a nice gallery of more Bruegel prints. Have a great weekend everyone!

Sloshing in the City

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice filthy slush puddle now and then? We New Yorkers are just loving it! It’s still only early February and I think it’s fair to say that this winter has been kicking our asses. But I try to look for the positives in most situations. They can be seen if we pay attention. One is the helpful, “looking out for each other” spirit that many people adopt during adversity. Someone slips and falls and folks are there right away to assist. An unspoken bond can be felt among city dwellers that we’re all in this together and once it’s over we can meet up on the Great Lawn in Central Park, bask in the  warmth of springtime and toss frisbees. In the meantime, let’s give each other a hand through this hardship. We can bitch about salt shortages and snow plows, or we can just buck up and deal with it as best we can.

Other positives include ice-encased tree branches and twigs and icicle formations, which are classically beautiful cold weather images. Also, the upper east side poodles and pomeranians in their little coats provide reasons to smile. Perhaps the most significant positive of winter in New York City is the indefatigable drive to keep everyday life going, business as usual … getting there, it’s all about getting there, slush puddles notwithstanding. Like the authentic New York City place that it is, Spring Studio keeps on going and doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “snow day”. Instead, every day is a “drawing day”. And through the slippery subway platforms, overhead drippings, and transit delays, the faithful model shows up at the studio. She’s wet, cold, and disheveled, but she shows up :-)

Created at Spring Studio on Monday night, a drawing of me by Robert Sebastiano:

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