Now Playing in New York!

I’m in New York visiting my lovely daughter, Francesca, and having a fun time all around. I came with a new folding bicycle (downtube) that I picked up so I could arrive and head straight over the Williamsburg Bridge with F. to her class at CUNY Grad Center in midtown Manhattan. I took a red-eye flight on Jetblue which was ok, but therefore I only slept about 2 hours before arriving at 4:30 a.m. PST (7:30 here). It took me the airtrain and 3 subways to get to Francesca’s place in Bedford-Stuyvesant at Myrtle/Willoughby… and nearly 2 hours too… still I arrived in plenty of time (though the bag Downtube sold me extra to carry the bike in came perilously close to losing its carry straps, now repaired by Francesca).

We went to her class on “Environmental Psychology” (?) and entered a great discussion on one of my favorite topics, public space. I was really impressed with the tenor of the class, the diversity of the 20+ students (from all over the place: Jamaica, India, Costa Rica, Boston, Portland, SF, Hungary, Italy… and more), and the intelligence of the conversation. I piped up of course, bringing up the recurrent problem of discussing public space as though it were primarily an architecture problem, rather than a problem of how we live, what kind of public lives do we have anyway, etc.? I was well received, in fact, the woman from Hungary was a big Critical Mass organizer there, so she was very surprised that I popped up in her class as the father of one of her co-students… funny!

Anyway, here’s a shot of me and Francesca on the Williamsburg bridge and also one of me with a partial view of my new folding bike:

On Thursday we hung around Brooklyn, went to the Park Slope co-op (where I had to get a guest pass to even visit the place… strange) and made a big chicken dinner with her very cool housemates, drank a lot of wine, and had also as guests two of Francesca’s new pals from a new social center two blocks away called 123. F is volunteering there on Thursdays when they have an afterschool program for local kids (the place has only been open since September and it’s already quite the hit with locals). 123 (Tompkins, off Myrtle in Brooklyn) is co-rented by a bike co-op in the basement, much like other bike co-ops everywhere in N. America now, a DIY facility to make or repair your own bike; also the local Anarchist Black Cross (!) who is conducting some kind of prisoner letter writing program; some overlapping Freegans, and then the youth programming that F is working with.

In fact, tonight we went to a whole spoken word evening there, quite impressive. My faves were a Nuyorican poet who calls himself Ol Soul… here’s a slightly blurry view of him.

Coupla other guys I really liked were a fella going by the moniker Khalil Khan who did an awesome piece he called “Working Class Blues”, and a super articulate, very self-possessed poet named Justin Woo, who had a whole passle of good words–he’s in the midst of writing 100 poems in 100 days so if you check out his myspace link there, you can find out more about that…

We had a fun day today before this evening’s impressive show. We got going around midday from Brooklyn, happily under gray but not raining skies (last night I got thoroughly soaked bicycling across Brooklyn to see old pal Chris W at Prospect Park SW, at least 2 miles from here), and took a circuitous route up through Queens to the Queensborough Bridge on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There’s an exhibit of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” that we wanted to see, which was ok, though far from overwhelming. But we discovered there an exhibit called “Impressed by Light” about British paper negative photography in the mid-19th century that was really great. At another part of the photography in the Met we found this odd set of images of water towers which I found somehow compelling:

After the crosstown bike ride and a couple of hours at the museum we made our way to Cafe Sabarsky but it was so crowded we went downstairs to the companion facility that has the same food without the old wooden atmosphere… I got this photo of Francesca’s new haircut over lunch!

After that we had a nice ride through Central Park during the golden light of late afternoon

and not long after that we were passing by Herald Square where the following photo of Francesca riding on a tiny one-block dedicated bike lane was taken.

Much as the NYC police have been completely out of control attacking Critical Mass here, it’s an odd truth that at the same time the city has been putting in bike lanes all over the place. Way more than you’d find in San Francisco (of course NYC is way bigger and has way more of everything than SF), and though I detest the stupidity of white stripe bike lanes that barely alter the streetscape, they are often an improvement over nothing at all. On many big streets in Brooklyn, especially, I’ve been glad to find lanes painted for my cycling comfort. I understand NYC is putting in a dedicated sidepath, separated from traffic like the photo above, along 9th Avenue for a good stretch. That’ll be great. Why can’t San Francisco do that, given our huge number of daily cyclists and dire need for safer road conditions?… hmmmmm?…

After an obligatory stop at the Strand bookstore (I found a book on NYC riots 1712-1875!) we hopped across the street to catch the new Robert Redford film Lions for Lambs… omigod! it’s awful! Watch out! Stay away! stay away!… We almost walked out several times as the bombastic music soared, the flags flew, the insipid earnestness of the unbelievably stiff dialogue fell like boulders on our ears… and to top it all off the movie makes no sense, it starts several potentially interesting plot lines and finishes only one, and that only partially. Mostly it’s a tedious 100 minutes of hearing the same old platitudes about the war uttered by the up-n-coming Republican senator (Tom Cruise playing Gavin Newsom) to a career-weary, sold out journalist (Meryl Streep playing some weird combined version of Judith Miller and Barbara Walters) who can only nod and sputter the occasional vague objection, but finally plays her role as an insider journalist in spite of it causing her a mild moral crisis. Meanwhile on the west coast, Robert Redford playing an earnestly liberal professor at an unnamed college is having a 7:30 a.m. session with a bored student he has decided “has potential”… to make his case to the student that he should resume his motivated behavior in his classroom and to go well beyond the classroom into public life, Redford uses the example of two guys who were students of his earlier, a black guy and a latino guy, best buddies, who after engaging in a completely implausible class debate with an incoherent, badly presented argument, announce that they’ve enlisted so they can go where history is being made… intending to come back as a black and latino war veterans with credibility and re-enter college on Uncle Sam’s nickel… the earnest naivete of their portrayal is juxtaposed to their being stranded on a snowy mountaintop in Afghanistan after the Senator’s “new strategy” has already failed in the teeth of the local resistance… much ado is being made about the effort to rescue them, predator drone video is being piped into a command center both in Bagram and at the Pentagon, but they’re finally wiped out by the guerrillas, only after running out of ammo and standing up in driving snow to face their fate… ick! The whole thing is just so patently absurd and frustrating…

You could say this is a great example of an earnest Hollywood liberal (Redford, who produced it) showing just how confused and clueless he is about this war. He does clearly want to make the antiwar argument, that politician’s egos are sending soldiers to their deaths, but he also wants to reinforce the stupidity that there is something noble about serving American empire… ack…

ok, well, it’s late at night and I’m enjoying a short NY vacation. It got me going again on the blog, so hopefully I’ll be able to re-establish some kind of weekly rhythm…

On a last note, here’s an image from the ground on the Williamsburg Bridge. Of course New York is full of tons of graffiti, and occasionally a good stencil on the ground, but not nearly as artistic as what we’re seeing these days in SF…. anyway, here’s the trees, no forest to be found!

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