376 If a rat family nests in your hair, brush their teeth before bed: The pscyho-geography of dueling ruin + reconstruction
Maphattan-wise we're walking the upper west + east (86-96 streets) ...Odyssey-wise we're behind schedule, stuck between the land of Lotus Eaters (consensus seems to be North Africa) + land of the Cyclops (Sicily is the common interpretation) ... Ulysses-wise we're at the pharmacy buying lemon soap ± the bar watching Bloom get berated by the anti-semitic citizen ... + Xtracurricular-reading-wise we are in the animistic mind of Kim Parko whilst checked into Smithson's Hotel Palenque ... all the while tethered to U, O Internet.
+ maybe we should mention that whenever u see the Empire State bldg all lit up in white, it's in our honor. Here's our route for the week:
Again, we did it in 2 chunks, the upper west side on 8/12 + the upper east on 8/16.
Upper West: took the subway down to start at 96 + Riverside, the intersection where Cameron Diaz freaks out on Tom Cruise + crashes in Vanilla Sky (2001).
Now there's a cement barricade in front of that flimsy green metal railing, or maybe there was during the making of the movie but they took it out to make the crash easier. If u are an uptown runner u know this spot cuz it's the only way to get between the north + south portions of Riverside Park (besides along the river).
Nothing much to speak of between 86-96 on the west side ... except to say the disparity between the west UW (along West End) + the east UW (along Columbus + Amsterdam) is quite pronounced, specially as you zig zag back + forth u can tell. The neighborhood is generally 'better' than higher up in the 90s or 100s, but there's still a lot of NYCHA projects, or 'developments' as i guess we're sposed to call them. Strange that it's not the other way around ... you'd think rich folk would want to live along the park, near the subway line.
Compared to the disparity between, say St. Louis + Ferguson, NYC doesn't seem such a bad place. There's segregation + inequality, sure, but u have to wonder how much is historical cuz people tend to cluster w/ their own kind. Yeah, the NYCHA developments seem dismal, but it's cheap rent for some 600,000 people. That population alone is more than say, Seattle or Boston. A city like San Francisco suffers because there's not much affordable housing, so how can any1 live there + have a regular job like working in a restaurant? The other thing about NYC is everything is so tightly woven + compactly connected that once u are on the street, u are on equal footing w/ every 1 else ... at least relative to the rest of this country. Or maybe we're naïve.
Speaking of clustering, there's this exclusive enclave between Broadway + West End (running between 94 + 95) called Pomander Walk ... it's not much to see from the street as it is gated, but inside seems like it's off in its own little cookie-cutter world.
+ speaking of Manhattan Project + Riverside drive ... Oppenheimer + his parents lived at Riverside + 88 ... 1 of the reasons they call it the Manhattan Project ... + ironically his pad is 7 streets down Riverside drive from the Buddhist statue that survived Hiroshima that we showed 2 posts ago.
For our meal we picked Mermaid Inn on 87th where we go at least 1 or 2x a month anyway for our oyster fix. The special was razor clams + shitakes ... tasty as always.
8/16: did the upper east side between 96-86 ... rode our bikes down to 86th, walked them for 2 blocks that we missed on our walk before, then rode across/under the park + strategically left our bikes at 86th + Fifth ave. Just so happened that the night before we watched The Fisher King (in light of Robin Williams passing) + then walking down 94th street lo + behold! The building that houses the Holy Grail, that Jeff Bridges breaks in to get, to snap Williams out of his catatonic stupor. (It's actually Hunter College btw, which is where Williams was a professor, in the movie). Have to admit tho, wasn't so impressed on this viewing ... Williams is good, but the dude wasn't so dude-like.
We saw another place (not pictured) that Warhol lived in on 87 + Lex, (the Hook + Ladder #113 bldg) ... guess Warhol had a thing for this hood.
On 90th street we stopped to see our brother's new place ... yep, our brother + niece just up + moved here from California 2 weeks ago, which is sort of strange cuz we've always been the only 1 in our family living on the east coast like an exiled hermit. On 89th street (+ York) we stopped to see the place we 1st lived in NYC, from 2000 to 2002 ... guess the upper east side is where u live when u 1st move to NYC ... a sort of rites of passage. At least in our case it was the only place we could afford. We didn't start keeping 5cense until just after this, but here's a shot of our better ½ in Yorkville our 1st winter (snow was novel to us coming from Arizona) ...
We ate at Heidelberg, a classic old German restaurant, which seemed appropriate enough considering the history + heritage of Yorkville. Oddly, we never bothered eating there in the 2 years we lived on the UES cuz we're not crazy about German food, but hey, got to do these things in the name of Maphattan ...
All the construction along 2nd avenue for the new subway really sucks for our maphatting ... + it appears the street is ripped up all the way to 63rd ...
Ended on 86 + Museum Mile where our bikes were waiting for us. Rode thru Central Park + up thru SOHA home. J's iPhone thingy said it was some 20+ miles, 6 or 7 on bike, but not so sure how accurate that is ... think (per gmap-pedometer) it was more like 12 ... + the west side portion was like 10+.
When we were in Mexico, DF last December, we picked up this book by Robert Smithson called Hotel Palenque. It doesn't appear there's an english version ... googling now it seems it was originally an essay in Parkett magazine + the photos (along w/ audio commentary) are collected at the Guggenheim (serendipitously pictured above). Actually, the text + photos were originally presented to architecture students at the University of Utah in 1972 ... tho the lecture probly would've been more appropriate to archaeology students or deconstruction artists. The photos are from a trip Smithson took to Palenque in 1969 ... but instead of focusing on the ruins of Palenque, Smithson became obsessed w/ this little dilapidated hotel where he was staying w/ his wife + friend ... Hotel Palenque.
Smithson must've been on peyote when he conceived the idea ... documenting the nonsense of the nonsite, a hotel simultaneously undergoing decay + reconstruction whilst being occupied. U could say every bldg is ever-dealing w/ the bootstrapping flux of dueling ruin + rebuilding, but the harsh tropical elements exacerbated the entropic decay, as did the transient nature of the hotel, whose upkeep was subject to the economic demands of tourism.
We've always had a flâneuring fondness for beauty in the breakdown, or «beauty of the breakdown» as our Roman friend Luca Arnaudo credits us («un’amica americana che, non a caso, vive a Roma») w/ saying in his study of the urban decay of Syracuse. Rarely are we impressed by new shiny things. There's a dying art to making things that will not just look good brand spanking new, but even better decades or centuries later. Most new things nowadays look like crap minutes after they are finished + usually not in a remotely interesting way. Sure, Palenque (which we visited most recently in 2005) in its time was probly grand + fancy, but would it have been as aesthetically interesting as it is now?
This is the challenge of restoration ... how to NOT let something slip back into the smothering tide, back into the overgrown foliage of weeds ... or not refabricate some hokey glossy replica out of plastic. It seems nowadays a lot of NYC is under construction or reconstruction ... rarely do we walk a block + not hit scaffolding (which we superstitiously avoid when possible).
More important than the art of reconstruction tho is how to build something in the 1st place that will weather well, that will look good under entropic deterioration + tidal surges. We're not just talking about architecture, but other art disciplines, or even writing. There's 2 approaches depending on which aesthetic u are going for ... obviously not cutting corners + using good fundamental materials + design sense to start with (for example, in ancient Rome ... + most of pre-war NYC buildings ... that have stood the test of time + look 'good' way down the road). The other approach is to embrace the free-for-all of chaos, to intentionally (or not) use materials that will quickly turn to shit, but in a 'good' if not kitschy way (which seems to be the dominant paradigm these days).
It's a vicious cycle + maybe it's all in the perspective, in the eyes of the beholder. Compared to times up until the 80s, almost all cars + advertisements + even people look ugly to us now (+ we go thru great pains to not include them in our photos here), but maybe 20 years from now we'll look back w/ nostalgic fondness? Maybe double-decker tourist busses full of fat people in cargo shorts clutching iPhones + plastic water bottles will seem aesthetically interesting? This seems to be the prevailing image these days on the streets of NYC ... ever since the 'new' Penn Station it's all been downhill for NYC.
+ speaking of reconstruction, as we write this jackhammers are ripping thru the street below our window + plastic construction barriers are going up ... as of this morning seems they are embarking on a new project to redo the stairs/park near Tiemann + Riverside ... why, we're not sure as it is 1 of the nicest little garden/paths in the city. Likely they are just trying to spend down a budget, ripping up things to rebuild them even worse. There's lots of trees so hard to tell what it looks like now, but here's a shot from our 1st winter ...
+ u can see the barricaded beginnings of the construction below (along w/ the 2 books we read this week)(if we'd waited a few minutes you might have also seen an ugly GEICO ad being pulled by an airplane ... not even the skies are immune).
The other book we read was Cure All by Kim Parko, whose work has appeared in Sleepingfish + also in 3rd bed ... great little book (published by Caketrain) .... timeless + placeless w/ a solid-earthy foundation of pure language, w/ elegantly architected advice/information w/ staying power, like: «A mountain is not so much granite as ants.» +: «IF A RAT FAMILY IS NESTING IN YOUR HAIR BRUSH THEIR TEETH BEFORE YOU GO TO BED». What more needs to be said ...
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