Sunday, May 31, 2009

#151












#151, Brooklyn Heights


Beautiful urban decay. That is all.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

#150










#150, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles


Not to make light of it, but all of my L.A. photos are basically drive-bys, sniper photography, just-point-the-lens-out-the-window-and-shoot variety. There is no strolling around Los Angeles, there is only driving. The freeway's rock crushes the sidewalk's scissors, so to speak, and if you're lucky enough to see a number under 3000 on a building, then you'd better catch it quick before it's spirited away behind a curtain of palm trees and some suntanned jerk's souped-up convertible. In fact, there was a fourth number off to the left of this one which was conveniently obscured by some blurry obstacle. It stands well on its three good legs and I like that till now, no one else ever looked at this wall and thought, with satisfaction, "150."

Midwestern by birth and East Coast by disposition, I find the whole West Coast lifestyle fascinating. I look at California the way a kid regards a big, beautiful bug trapped in a jar, unsure whether I should let it go free, stare at it all day long, or just tear its wings off trying to dissect it. Not to hurt it on purpose, only because I'm just trying to figure out what makes it tick. I'm Margaret Mead among the Samoans out there in sunny, laid back California and I've got the pale complexion to prove it.

And take the architecture. (No, really, take it.) All that minimalist glass and steel colliding with mission revival houses, that skyline that could be Baltimore, no, Pittsburgh, no, what do you mean this is downtown? zips past so fast there's no time to process it all. There is no center. "Seventy-two suburbs in search of a city," is how Dorothy Parker, ever the East Coaster, christened the City of Angels. As for my part, I shouldn't be too quick to judge, but what fun is that. And I've seen, what: three? Four? Ten of those suburbs? See, I can't even tell.

Anyway, Wilshire Boulevard was just hotel after hotel, palm tree after palm tree, and a handful of signs that told me I was in Beverly Hills. But I'm sure I'd have seen much more to this sprawling, cryptic metropolis, if only I'd had the time to look at anything beside the rearview mirror.

Friday, May 29, 2009

#149












#149, Brooklyn Heights


He was probably singing about the one in Manhattan, but whenever I pass this wall in Brooklyn, I always think of Leonard Cohen singing the first verse of Famous Blue Raincoat.
It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening
Hearing him sing it live just two weeks ago, seeing him bathed in blue light of the stage, guitar slung over his suit, fedora tipped down, Lenny the legend, 74 years old, filling the rafters of Radio City Music Hall in New York City with song, what can I say? There was not a dry eye in the house. This song is one of my favorites, one that will always transport me, whether I'm on Clinton Street in Brooklyn or Clinton Street in the Lower East Side or just that Clinton Street of the mind. And I'm writing you now just to tell you so. Sincerely, T. Cox

Thursday, May 28, 2009

#148











#148, Greenpoint, Brooklyn


It was not my intention today to write a eulogy, but sadly, that's what I've been driven to after the day's events. This eulogy isn't for a person, and I'm thankful for that, but rather for the trees that were sawed down in my back lot this morning, without apparent reason.

There's a lot of negativity floating around the city, no doubt about it. Subways are crowded, garbage trucks collect early in the morning, and unwanted music pulses from car and apartment windows when you're trying to get some sleep for crying out loud. For the thousand and one things about New York City life there are to complain about, I like to do just the opposite and see the beauty in it, or at least the humor. You look for beauty where you can find it: a hand-painted number on a door in Greenpoint, a colorful mural on the Lower East Side, even those green highway signs erected by Marty Markowitz that alert motorists that they are "Leaving Brooklyn: Fugheddaboudit."

I'm not a hippie, but I love trees, and I think greenery is important in city neighborhoods. The rear windows of my fourth-floor apartment overlook the Statue of Liberty, the cranes of the Red Hook Marine Terminal, and a hint of the lower Manhattan skyline, where I can sometimes catch the sight of orange sunsets glinting off skyscrapers or the unexpected explosions of late Saturday night fireworks. I usually catch these festivities because I'm making sure they're not gunshots or bombs, and enjoy them all the more when I realize they're not.

In the middle of all this is - or was - the jumbled, leafy curtain of a handful of trees, which provided shade in the summer and shelter from the unrelenting atmosphere of concrete and aluminum siding, not to mention the prying eyes of the neighbors. Sparrows and wrens flitted in the branches, singing and chattering, and I looked forward every year to the first green buds that meant that another harsh winter was nearing its end.

It was Dylan Thomas who said, "All trees are oak trees, except pine trees." Every New Yorker worth her salt can differentiate a local train from an express train. But it's easy to not pay attention to names of flowers and types of trees. I'm a writer, so I like knowing the names of things. The trees that grew in the back lot were Trees of Heaven. It's widely considered an invasive tree - a weed among trees - but it's the same type of tree that grows in Betty Smith's 1943 novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The Tree of Heaven in Smith's story, doggedly growing among the tenements and visible from the fire escapes, becomes a symbol of beauty and perseverance, a glimmer of hope in a depressed neighborhood. It is a symbol, but it is more than a symbol. It is first and foremost a tree, a very real tree that brings Francie Nolan, the young main character, a very real joy in her difficult life.

I woke up this morning to a wretched crunching sound. As I got out of bed and went to the window to investigate, the noise was unmistakable. I recognized the buzzing of chainsaws, the cracking noise of a tree trunk caving in, the awful machinery that grinds a living thing down into firewood. A Tree of Heaven was being felled in a nearby parking lot. Limbs and scattered leaves lay on the asphalt, and the white arm of a truck that read, perversely, Family Tree Service hovered over a severed trunk, alarmingly fresh and pale against the dark, weathered bark. I chalked it up to the destruction of one, maybe two trees over the lot, probably diseased, and left it at that.

But the crunching continued. One by one, limbs continued to drop, branches were hoisted down on red ropes, an orange chainsaw whirring while the worker at the helm sawed off trunks and branches, simultaneously smoking a cigarette. Little by little, my curtain of trees, my daily glimpse of greenery, was collapsing around me. There was nothing I could do. The landlord had not informed us. (The landlord, I am told, is upstate.) Our downstairs neighbor was aware that trees were going to be cut down, but he couldn't get an answer from the landlord as to why this was happening. The shade in my neighbor's small garden is gone. A ladder is propped up near his small rose bush, in full pink bloom. Damage has been done to the bush. The lot is barren, exposed. Power lines buzz overhead. There are no trees left, only bushes and a scattering of weeds.

There is no beauty to this story, not even a rueful smile for the workers with their ironically optimistic tree logo t-shirts, not even a joke to be had involving Rear Window nor a one-line jab about having a better view of the salt pile.

My trees are gone. My neighbor's trees are gone. A part of my city, a bit of joy from my daily life, has been destroyed. I could see it as a symbol, but I don't. I see it for the very real loss that it is. I can see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes, but it's the trees that I will miss most.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

#147












#147, Pearse Street, Dublin

If the Discovery Channel can have Shark Week, I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to have Lion Week. Lions are mighty creatures and, astrologically speaking anyway, I've quite the affinity with the king of the jungle myself. Although let's face it, I'm not really sure what they're doing in architecture.

They've commandeered the Art Institute in Chicago, they've made themselves at home on the steps of the New York City Public Library (bonus points to anyone who can name the library lions: sans Wikipedia, of course), and in my hometown, I used to look forward to passing a certain favorite lion statuette whenever we hopped in the car to go out to dinner. It guarded the lawn of a house near the bowling alley, raising one paw gingerly and letting out more of a yawn than the MGM lion roar it was probably meant to. As a kid I would, for an entire half mile, start chanting, "The lion! The lion!" upon approach, and my brothers, in response, would specifically tackle me at the moment we were about to pass the lion so I wouldn't get to see it. It disappeared from the lawn for good about a year or two ago, and I still feel a pang any time I pass "the lion's" spot and see that blank space.

This tame brass beast above the 147 looks considerably less ferocious than the fearsome stone PS 142 lion of several days ago, more like he's about to spit out the chestnuts he's been hoarding in his mouth than bite the hand that knocks. I've always wondered why door knockers in Dublin so often have lions and Medusas on them and why not, say, a more welcoming creature. I suppose it may have been in the tradition of the great gargoyles to scare off visitors rather than have them over for tea, though I don't know anyone that'd be scared off by this grim-lipped, cowardly fellow. Succumb to pity, more like.

Lastly - and this has nothing to do with architecture and everything to do with lions - may I wrap up Lion Week with a link to this video clip. Full disclosure: I am a fan of cute lion animation. Also, if you're from Norway, you might take offense.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#146












#146, Houston Street, NYC


Another perk to living in Brooklyn - apart from harboring crushes on local street artists - is that you also get to spot your favorite typographers out walking their dogs. And when you spend as much time as I do collecting type, this is a really neat occurrence, to witness your niche enthusiasms dovetailing neatly with another's, entirely without the other's knowledge that you are somehow accomplices in the same game. It's a little disconcerting, too, because although someone might be flattered to be steamrolled with your "OMG, I totally saw you in Helvetica!" greeting, he might also prefer to have a nice morning stroll to himself without being accosted by a fellow font freak.

Mr. Tobias Frere-Jones, the typographer in question, has been at the number-collecting game far longer than yours truly. I saw Frere-Jones speak about two years ago at a design blogging event called Postopolis and was fascinated by his description and slideshow of pictures of typeface on the buildings of New York. At the time of Postopolis two years ago, he'd basically - armed with a camera - combed over every single city block from the tip of lower Manhattan up to 14th Street, snapping examples of unusual and vernacular type. The very immensity of this project makes me swoon. It also makes me perfectly happy to feel no obligation to be any more completist than I already am, seeing as my Shackleton-like dash to the South Pole has already been conquested by a far more prepared Amundsen.

If you happened to see the outtakes at the end of the documentary Helvetica (I wrote about the film in more detail here), you would have glimpsed this very 146 on the screen of Frere-Jones's Mac. I like knowing there are others out there, other number paparazzi who can appreciate the tiny jewels in New York's bling-infested crown. And this 146 is a good one. Part functional-modernist decoration, part mod bathroom tile, it's eye catching on the sometimes tiresome artery of West Houston Street. And while there's nothing quite like the thrill of discovery, there's comfort in knowing there are others out there who enjoy the hunt every bit as much.

Monday, May 25, 2009

#145











#145, Upper West Side, NYC

Sunday, May 24, 2009

#144












#144, Brooklyn Heights


#143's neighbor on Montague Street. Has been known to loan cups of sugar, if 143 asks nicely.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

#143












#143, Brooklyn Heights


Insert "Chariots of Fire" theme song here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

#142











#142, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

No child left behind. Stragglers will be eaten by the PS 142 lion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

#141











#141, Bergen Street, Brooklyn


One morning back in February, I was standing at the counter of the Fall Cafe on Smith Street, chatting with Chris while he made my latte, leaning on the counter and eagerly awaiting the injection of caffeine I so badly needed. Beside the tip jar was the usual array of flyers and postcards for upcoming shows: announcements for dive bar bands and one-act plays and Brooklyn craft shows. One especially neon postcard caught my eye. It was for a house party in one of those hipster enclaves I usually avoid: Greenpoint or Williamsburg. "Party with all the Brooklyn street artists you have a crush on!" one card announced, oozing with self-referential congratulatory hipness. I filed this bit of information away as irrelevant when suddenly, scanning the list of artists on the flyer, I had a start. Hang on, I thought. I do have a crush on a Brooklyn street artist!

His medium, as it happens, is chalk and not spray paint. And his name is Ellis G.

You'd be hard pressed to get me to agree to this many days, buried as I am Pig Pen-like in the cloud of white dust that is every English prof's lot in life, but chalk can be kind of awesome. Out in nature, out on my free time, I can appreciate it for what it is: whimsical graffiti that starts to vanish the minute it's applied. Finding a bit of unusual chalk art feels like a secret between me and the city, one that I can enjoy more knowing it will soon be swept away by the elements.

I wasn't always this enamored. Ellis G. - the street artist famous in Brooklyn 'hoods for his chalk outline drawings - merely irked me in the beginning. Who was this artist and why was he post-dating all of his works? (Outlines drawn in 2006 would be signed Ellis G. Copyright 2008, and so on. What was up with that?) Then I started noticing them more and more, phantom shapes appearing on sidewalks and building walls: a bicycle tire, a fire hydrant, a street sign. I began to look forward to them. They were surprises on familiar street corners, luminous companions on late night walks home from the F train.

About three years ago, the New York Times did an article on Ellis G. - real name Ellis Gallagher - that shed more light on the man behind the shadows. The more I learned about the artist - he began drawing chalk outlines after his own "brush with crime" - the more I grew to love his drawings and the random joy they create in strangers. It's a great read, especially if you have ever been lucky enough to see one of these drawings in person. Then I saw this image and my heart nearly melted. The caption (photo credit: Chang W. Lee) reads: Ellis Gallagher drawing the shadow of a stop sign and explaining what he is doing to a young admirer.


My street art crush was officially born.

In today's 141, the freshly fallen (and soon-to-be-filthy) white snow and the stark, faded chalk make this picture ephemeral times two. And while the street-artist-I-have-a-crush-on was not, far as I know, responsible for the 141 above, his work is so intertwined in my mind with chalk drawings in Brooklyn that it I can't see anything in Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill written in chalk without thinking of Ellis G. If you look closely, you can see scribbled beneath the 141: "Bergan St, Brooklyn NY." I'm not usually one to find misspellings amusing - and woe be to those who think "k"s replacing "c"s are somehow cuter, especially where the word "car" is concerned - but having the street name etched onto brick in chalk is such a rarity I'll make an exception. Also, I've had my mind changed more than once about chalk drawings, so I'm less quick to judge harshly these days.

A coda to this story: I was exiting the F train at Bergen Street one night. It was late at night and I'd dragged my harried body up the steps, tired from the long day and thinking only of getting home. I spotted a bicycle wreck on a mangled street pole, lined in familiar blue chalk. In block letters, a message was scratched out next to it: LOOK UP.

I turned my face up to the sky and beheld the eerie, smoky, glowing image of a lunar eclipse. It had only started some minutes before; by the time I got home, it would be gone. I stood bewitched by the surreal sight, unthinkably distant above the bodegas and the rooftops, a thing of beauty I would have missed if someone with a love of the fleeting and the sublime hadn't taken the care to remind me.

Just before turning around to leave, I spied a hooded figure on the street corner, pacing up and down furtively. Maybe he was just watching the eclipse, maybe he was out buying a bag of chips. Or maybe he was checking to see if anyone had stopped to notice the message on the sidewalk, pocketing his stick of chalk, grinning at his handiwork. Wondering if any other souls in the city could see the beauty he wanted us to see.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

#140











#140, Upper West Side, NYC


Today, Goth kids are a dime-a-dozen. You can find them in all the usual places in cities scattered about the world: in New York City, hanging out by the giant black cube at Astor Place; in Dublin, in the plaza under the giant concrete pagoda of the Central Bank; in New Jersey, at the skull-suspender racks at Hot Topic near the mall food courts. When I was in high school, there was hardly such a thing as a Goth. If we existed, we weren't capitalized, for the love of God, and we weren't placed inside ironic quotation marks. There were freaks and burn-outs and metal heads, but there were no goths. There was no "we," no stores selling studded belts save the Alley in Chicago where pilgrimages to buy Manic Panic hair dye were a twice-a-year occasion, no collectiveness to the enterprise whatsoever. I had to grope my way to Joy Division records via New Order records via my brothers' record collection. I liked gargoyles and Notre Dame Cathedral, but I didn't have any cool statuettes of them lying about my room. So when I went away to college and into the dorms, this was a very big deal.

I'm talking about my first plaster Corinthian column.

I'll try to describe this to you: my very first hunk of pre-fab faux antiquity architecture. I loved my plaster column. Some looked at it and saw only a lamp stand, others saw only a Byzantine ashtray holder. I, on the other hand, saw structure, order, coolness. It was a miniature relic of a cathedral -- and it was right under my black-and-white poster of Ian Curtis! This wasn't cliche to me. This was Lewis and Clark. This was uncharted territory. I bought my column for a pretty penny after an agonizing selection process at the Alley on Clark and Belmont. I drove it back to my dorm room in my parent's red minivan, borrowed especially for the errand. I think I might have smoked a cigarette listening to the Dead Kennedys as I drove the column home, holding the Marlboro Light very far out the window so's not to contaminate the new car smell.

It's easy to forget now what a thrill it was, what a defining moment of identity this purchase was for me. I think of a passage in Denis Johnson's short story, "The Other Man," which appears in the excellent collection, Jesus' Son, that describes what such a purchase can look like from the outside:
He was a sad case. His jacket was lightweight and yellow. He might have been wearing it for the first time. It was the kind of jacket a foreigner would wear in a store while saying to himself, "I am buying an American jacket."
I was textbook young goth, buying a decorative architectural plaster column, thinking to myself, "I am buying a Gothic column. I am going to have a little cathedral in my room. I will light incense and pretend that I am in church, only without all the dogma and the standing up." But I don't roll my eyes when I think of it now. It's too easy. Besides, in the short story, it's the foreigner in the yellow jacket, the character with the "essential loserness," who has the last laugh. Not all things are what they appear on the outside. And who knows? Maybe it was that plaster Corinthian column that helped lay the foundation for all the architectural oohing and ahhing that was to come. Maybe I have that to blame. Or to thank.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

#139











#139, Baggot Street, Dublin


My senior year of college, I dressed up like William Butler Yeats. Not every day, sadly, though I have to confess I cut a surprisingly sharp figure in a cape, flouncy poet's tie, and pince-nez. I made a pretty good six-foot-two Irishman for a five-foot-two American girl, and sometimes I think they must've switched souls at the Illinois hospital where I was born with a word-struck mystic outcast lad from Sligo. We've been trying to find each other ever since.

The method to the cross-cultural cross-dressing madness was a one-person show for my Non-fiction Studies class in the Performance Studies department. We were to research the life of a historical figure, put together a script using only primary sources (diaries, letters, first person accounts), and then perform a 30-40 minute long show where we became this historical figure. There were my classmates, parading about as Janis Joplin, Anais Nin, Frank Zappa, Bette Davis, and me, W.B. Yeats. The life of the party.

I mention this today, for 139's pub mural, because Yeats was not a drinking man. This asocial quirk did not make him popular among his fellow countrymen. As a child, children would jeer as he approached, lanky and gloomy, "O, here is King Death again!" As a grown-up, he was known as "Willie the Spooks." George Moore said of W.B. that he looked "like an umbrella left behind at a picnic." And as you can see, here he's been ousted from the hard man's drinking party with James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh who are clearly living it up, bad eyesight and all, on the wall of Toner's. Only look at those drugged expressions. What do you suppose they're drinking, absinthe?

In any case, the famous prankster, writer, surgeon, and man-about-town Oliver St. John Gogarty (fictionalized as the character Buck Mulligan in Joyce's Ulysses) decided enough was enough with old stick-in-the-mud Willie and decided it was time Yeats fix his pub deficiency. (Yeats, apparently, had somehow made it to adulthood having never set foot in a pub, too busy writing unrequited love letters to Maud Gonne, the poor fella.) And so Gogarty convinced Yeats to have a couple of jars one night at Toner's on Baggot Street. Yeats sat quietly at a corner in Toner's, sipping his sherry. He finished his drink, stood up stiffly and announced, "I have seen a pub. Will you kindly take me home now," and left.

Still and all, I happen to love old W.B., and if I'd been alive when he was alive, I'd be dead now. But if he was alive today, I'd be sure to put up my dukes and defend poor King Death. Though I might find myself drinking alone, alas.

Monday, May 18, 2009

#138












#138, Brooklyn Heights

Sunday, May 17, 2009

#137











#137, Congress St, Brooklyn


This mural has been on a little-trafficked portion of Congress Street for nearly eight years. I always admire it whenever I pass, reading along as the white noise of cars passing on the BQE grants the air a reverent hush. The full text reads:
We Will Still Stand: New York yesterday, today and tomorrow bleeds. But for everyone's suffering there is a fellow New Yorker, a fellow American reaching out to stanch the flow, to comfort, to help, and above all, to sacrifice. Our hearts may have been broken, but they continue to beat. Most incredibly -- something terrorists cannot grasp -- they beat with a love for this nation and for one another.
The mural has faded and chipped over time. Weather has done damage, dirt has collected, a no parking sign has elbowed in. The plywood fence has rotted beneath the red, white, blue, and shades of gray. And though the paint is ephemeral, the words are not.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

#136











#136, Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn


Last Exit to Brooklyn, a novel by Hubert Selby, is a transgressive tale of the underbelly of Brooklyn, where hoodlums, punks, factory workers, hookers, and sailors drink, fight, and live out their seedy lives. Last Exit in Brooklyn is a transgressive bar in the underbelly of Brooklyn where hoodlums, punks, factory workers, hookers, and sailors drink, fight, and live out their seedy lives. Oh, all right. It's not really that bad. I've never actually seen a sailor there.

I ain't hating on the Exit, I actually really dig this bar, though I confess that my loyalties have been elsewhere these past few years. But I've had a couple of enjoyable nights and spent a few birthdays drinking in this red-lit, friendly, well-music-ed watering hole. Now that Magnetic Field, a little farther down the block, is gone -- R.I.P. -- Last Exit is one of the last remaining Atlantic Avenue outposts where one can gather and chat with a mixed, laid back crowd, and admire artwork that looks like it came from the brush or paint-strewn fingers of H.P. Lovecraft's and J.R. Geiger's love child. Hot pink Cthulhus: you may not like them, but they really know how to get the party started.

The bar is definitely worth dropping in for, as is the excellent exterior. That red and yellow sign and Last Exit lettering is as iconic to me as a Dairy Queen sign. Open later, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

#135











#135, Greenwich Village, NYC

Thursday, May 14, 2009

#134










#134, South Street Seaport, NYC


It was a cool, damp winter night in Sixmilebridge, a tiny village in the west of Ireland. I was in a hotel overrun with Munster fans in red jerseys there for the match at Thomond Park. I had arrived mere hours before with a notebook, a small suitcase, and an inexplicable need to hear bluegrass and sea shanties in the middle of January. It was the Winter Music Weekend, and I was there alone, blending in among the football enthusiasts like a steak knife in a drawer of soup spoons.

As the trad session in the hotel bar raged on (the usual swirl of jaunty tunes played maniacally by scarily competent musicians), I caught word that sea shanties were going on in the next room. It was a benefit for the local volunteer Search & Rescue squad. I dropped a tenner in the donations basket, said thank you to the man with the Search & Rescue patch on his shirt, and sauntered, pint in hand, into the dim-lit, musty room of the hotel, where a grizzly, bearded fellow in a t-shirt that read GRUMPY OLD MATELOT was launching into Harry Eddom, an a capella tale of a shipwrecked sailor in Iceland. It was late. The group supporting him was Kimber's Men, and they boldly sang shanties and drinking songs and tales of the sea. Folks were singing along. I was the youngest in the room by about twenty years. I sat near the wall, my pint of Guinness resting on the closed lid of a piano, and listened. As the men ("We're in the Guinness book for the world's oldest boy band," quipped one) burst into a boisterous round of Rolling up, rolling down, we'll all get drunk in Tilbury town, I'd all but booked the next Tilbury-bound ship by the end of the third verse. I was listening songs culled from The Whaling Book of 1834. I was very happy.

Some months later, back in New York, I caught word that Joe Stead of Kimber's Men (the grumpy old matelot himself) was going to be singing, sans the men, at the South Street Seaport Museum. I made a note in my calendar to go, and I did. It's a tall order looking for other maritime music enthusiasts -- even in such a diverse place as New Yawk -- so I once more sauntered in alone, the only audience member under the age of forty-five with the exception of a twelve-year old boy, clearly the son of someone and possibly dragged there under extreme duress. Joe Stead carried the room with a deep thick baritone voice, an imposing yet charming Santa Claus presence, and a barrel full of ship lore and stories. Not to mention a dry wit that made me wish I was a grumpy old matelot myself. Well, I am one, truly. Maybe time to start advertising as such.

As for the Seaport itself, that area is home to some of my favorite architecture in the city. I love wandering down the forgotten cobblestone streets off the beaten track and finding treasures like this 134, hiding on the lonely side of a wall. I mean, check out that serif on the 3. As dusk settled in and I wove through the narrow streets, I found my head still swimming with sea shanties.

Fortunately, though I don't spend me days battening down the hatches, I can still get a dose of the odd sea shanty from time to time. Thanks to Pascal for penning Ocean's Arms, a tale of a shipwrecked girl from Galway, that appears on Subway Songs, one of two new Balthrop, Alabama EPs that I play on. You can come here for a listen. (That's me on mandolin and accordion. Also shouting "Land ho!", something I recommend everyone do at least once per month. Lustily, if possible. With an eyepatch, if ye have one.) Enjoy. Have a look around. Sea shanties aren't dead, you see. They're just pining for the fjords.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#133











#133, Brooklyn Heights

For some reason I'm craving waffles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#132











#132, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

It's been a slow couple of days here at the old &7. Much of this has to do with the font-loving/architecture-digging part of my brain being subjected to an onslaught of Osmonds billboards and dynamite-encrusted Yakov Smirnoff ads in Branson, Missouri. What a country! But I'm never too overwhelmed to talk to all y'all about the many charms of brick.

Fortunately, I'm not alone in my brick-gazing ways, and for those who'd like to be convinced of brick's many charms, I suggest you take a peek at the new spin-off blog from Invisible Paris, called, aptly, Bricks in Paris. It's a lovely fledgling project exploring everything from crumbling French 2nd/3rd BC beauties to 1920's municipal architecture. In the meantime, I'll hit ya with some Brooklyn brick. That would be figuratively, of course.

Monday, May 11, 2009

#131











#131, Crosby Street, NYC

Sunday, May 10, 2009

#130












#130, Soho, NYC

Saturday, May 9, 2009

#129











#129, Chinatown, NYC

Friday, May 8, 2009

#128











#128, New Haven, CT

I was in New Haven only four hours, but I was homesick for New York. Why? The pizza, mostly. Despite claims to the contrary, I was not converted to the sect of overachieving Connecticut pizza worshippers, though I'd gone in with high hopes. But the bookstores were flat out fantastic and the food wasn't a problem, as I was busy wandering the cold winter New Haven streets with a glazed look in my eye, looking for architectural treasures to capture. The usual.

In keeping with my homesick/city-superiority-complex theme of the day, I found that the botanical motif carved next to the 128 reminded me of the cherry mosaics that pepper the Delancey Street subway station where I sometimes catch the F train. Ephemeral New York has posted a brief history behind the tiny cherry mosaics, which, miraculously, were not just installed, as I had thought "because they were cute." I have watched the Delancey Street station go through many growing pains, including a scrap of unforgettable graffiti imposed on the half-ripped out tiles: how artfully DELA____ STREET was converted to BELA LUGOSI STREET. I still sometimes refer to it that way. "Now take the F to Bela Lugosi Street..."

Turns out the old DeLancey family, back in the day, did have a farm on what we now call the Lower East Side. And Orchard Street used to really have an orchard of cherry trees. As for old Bela? All I can say is he's dead, he's dead, he's dead.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

#127












#127, Brooklyn Heights

Perfect for a round of Brownstone Rorschach.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#126











#126, Lower Baggot Street, Dublin


The world needs another picture of a Georgian Dublin door like it needs another pewter figurine of Yankee Stadium. Go to any souvenir shop or card rack in Dublin and you'll face an onslaught of "Doors of Dublin" postcards and posters. The doors are lovely, of course: all painted different colors - yellow, red, blue, black - lined up three by four like a posh bingo card. Looking at them, you'd think that everywhere you went in the city, you'd be greeted with Georgian splendor and brass door knockers and picturesque fanlight windows perched over each door like wedding cake toppers. This would be true if you were driving in Merrion Square with a GPS that told you to make only right turns.

Now I love geeking out on architecture, but I get a little prickly when it comes to these doors, only because they are so done. They are everywhere. But a curious thing happens when you give it a closer look. The individual panes of glass in the fanlight show their warps and weaves, the details of the white armature stand out like an elegant necklace. The 1 shows its serif.

However, in the process of all this wanting to be original, I did get to thinking about what else I could make picture postcards of, if not "Doors of Dublin". (If you do want to groove on those doors, you can find another photo of this 126 alongside its picturesque neighbors here.) The contrarian in me began to brainstorm objects I'd love to photograph that no tourist or native would want to buy or no right-thinking person would ever collect, whether relics of forgotten street furniture or utility-oriented objects: "Sewer Caps of Dublin", "Rubbish Bins of Prague", "Bootscrapers of Brooklyn". Well, why not? It's in keeping with the national mood, anyway. I declare we usher in the era of recession postcards: economic downturn doors! Sewers down which your 401k has been flushed! Oh yes, we'll keep it street, all right. Really street.

And as for my fledgling bootscraper series, I'd confidently thought my notion was highly original until, flipping recently through my well-loved copy of Wrought Iron in Architecture, I noted that someone had already beaten me to it. Well, almost. There it was, gloating at me in atmospheric black and white, page 162, Fig. 263: "Philadelphia Foot-scrapers." Though the Philadelphia Footscrapers sounds to me better suited to a zany 1920's kazoo and washboard band.

In the meantime, what unloved objects would you put on your recession-era postcard? Do tell. Let's make 'em in our basements. And then let's swap.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#125












#125, Soho, NYC


Tearing through a manic catalog of one number per day, it's not often I get to orchestrate very much. It's pretty much just air traffic control over here, with occasional riffs on the planes as they land. But every now and then, I get a few smooth transitions in the sequence - a few days of street art in a row, a matching back-to-back color scheme - that make me look much more in control of the work than I actually am. 124, meet 125. I couldn't have planned it better if I tried.