Posts Tagged ‘new york city’

shutterstock-567624058Photo: Shutterstock/Elizaveta Galitckaia

She looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘How do I know I’m real?’

It takes nerve to put yourself out there to answer people’s philosophical questions. After all, most potential questioners have only the fuzziest idea of what philosophy is or what questions would be relevant to a philospher’s expertise. Some people are bound to treat the philosopher as a Dear Abby advice columnist, a psychiatrist, or an astrologer.

Here is what Boston University philosopher Lee McIntyre experienced, according to his report at the Conversation.

“The life choices that had led me to be sitting in a booth underneath a banner that read ‘Ask a Philosopher’ – at the entrance to the New York City subway at 57th and 8th – were perhaps random but inevitable.

“I’d been a ‘public philosopher‘ for 15 years, so I readily agreed to join my colleague Ian Olasov when he asked for volunteers to join him at the ‘Ask a Philosopher’ booth. This was part of the latest public outreach effort by the American Philosophical Association, which was having its annual January meeting up the street. …

“I sat between Ian and a splendid woman who taught philosophy in the city, thinking that even if we spent the whole time talking to one another, it would be an hour well spent. Then someone stopped.

“At first glance, it was hard to tell if she was a penniless nomad or an emeritus professor, but then she took off her hat and psychedelic scarf and came over to the desk and announced, ‘I’ve got a question. I’m in my late 60s. I’ve just had life threatening surgery, but I got through it.’

“She showed us the jagged scar on her neck. ‘I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life,’ she said. ‘I’ve got a master’s degree. I’m happily retired and divorced. But I don’t want to waste any more time. Can you help?’

“Wow. One by one, we all asked her to elaborate on her situation and offered tidbits of advice, centering on the idea that only she could decide what gave her life meaning. I suggested that she might reach out to others who were also searching, then she settled in for a longer discussion with Ian.

“And then it happened: A crowd gathered. …

“One young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, stepped away from the group with a serious concern. ‘Why can’t I be happier in my life? I’m only 20. I should be as happy as I’m ever going to be right now, but I’m not. Is this it?’

“It was my turn. ‘Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other,’ I said. … ‘You can’t just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it. … You’ve got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That’s been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.’ …

“Again it was quiet. Some who passed by were pointing and smiling. A few took pictures. It must have looked odd to see three philosophers sitting in a row with ‘Ask a Philosopher’ over our heads, amidst the bagel carts and jewelry stalls. …

“And then I spotted her … an interlocutor who would be my toughest questioner of the day. She was about 6 years old and clutched her mother’s hand as she craned her neck to stare at us. Her mother stopped, but the girl hesitated.

” ‘It’s OK,’ I offered. ‘Do you have a philosophical question?’ The girl smiled at her mother, then let go of her hand to walk over to the booth. She looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘How do I know I’m real?’

“Suddenly I was back in graduate school. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase ‘I think, therefore I am’? …

“Then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. ‘Close your eyes,’ I said. She did. ‘Well, did you disappear?’ She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. ‘Congratulations, you’re real.’ ”

More here.


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Photo: The Guardian
What it looked like when a swarm of bees attacked a New York City hotdog stand.

As you know, I think New York City is an endlessly unspooling entertainment reel. This adventure with swarming bees is a typical example. Wish I had seen it. The police officer in charge must have been surprised to discover that a bit of obscure training would actually come in handy someday.

As Adam Gabbatt reported at the Guardian, “Productivity came to a halt across New York City offices on Tuesday afternoon, as hordes of people eagerly followed the removal of 20,000 bees from a hotdog stand. …

“Thousands watched a Reuters livestream – the stand is located outside the news agency’s New York headquarters – and followed on Twitter as a police officer was called in to remove the bees. With a vacuum cleaner. …

“Officers from the New York police department stood guard, some more willingly than others, as one of their colleagues donned a beekeeper’s hat and approached the hotdog stand.

“The bees had gathered in a densely packed, roughly 15-square-foot clump, and the unidentified officer, who wore a white jacket, thick gloves and has a moustache, proceeded to vacuum up the bees. The bee cleansing took about 40 minutes, much of which was watched online.

“By around 3 pm, the officer, who told journalists he ‘has training,’ had removed the bulk of the bees, but many remained in the area, swarming around a selection of soft drinks displayed on the hotdog stall. …

“Andrew Coté, who runs the New York City beekeepers’ association, had answered a call from the NYPD and was watching as the bees were removed. Removal by vacuum cleaner – it was a specially adapted vacuum cleaner – was common, Coté said. He estimated there were 20,000 bees on the umbrella, but said: ‘You’ve got to count the legs and divide by six to be sure.’

“Coté said … this late-August swarm had likely occurred because of an ill-managed beehive. He said there were a number of hives within a block of the hotdog stand.

“By 3.15 pm police had re-opened the street, although a number of bees were still on the scene.” More here.

You definitely have to know what you’re doing with bees. I’m sure a transplanted Minnesota beekeeper I know in Berlin, Massachusetts, would have managed his hives better if he had set up in a city. Beekeeping is serious business, and you don’t want to be responsible for anyone with an allergy getting stung.

Video: Reuters

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Still shot of Manfred Kirchheimer’s nonverbal documentary Stations of the Elevated, which depicts the graffiti and anxious ambience of New York City in the late 1970s.

There’s a story about a documentary created by my sister’s friend Manny Kirchheimer. For years, though admired by critics, Stations of the Elevated could not be distributed because it was not possible to meet the price set by a jazz musician’s widow for use of the music.

Then a film buff from Artists Public Domain discovered the artistic, wordless evocation of a New York moment tucked away on a shelf.

As Joel Rose reported at NPR in 2014, “The first film to point a camera at the graffiti movement in New York City was Stations of the Elevated, which debuted at the New York Film Festival in 1981.

“The film hasn’t been seen much since, except by generations of graffiti fans and writers who watched it on VHS tapes. Now it’s being re-released on the big screen. …

Stations of the Elevated is not a documentary in the usual sense. It’s only 45 minutes long; there’s no narrative and hardly any dialogue. The camera follows subway cars painted from top to bottom with vibrant graffiti compositions over a soundtrack of jazz by Charles Mingus. One critic compared Stations to a nature film, in which director Manny Kirchheimer stalks graffiti-covered subway cars in their native habitat.

” ‘He went big-game hunting, and he caught the big game, you know?’ says graffiti writer Lee Quinones, whose work is featured prominently in the film. … ‘This is the first film of its kind that captured a beautiful golden age where a lot of these cars were being painted, and that urgency,’ he says. ‘He was able to capture that, and way before the established art world even got a pulse that this was going on underneath their feet.’

“Kirchheimer … was born in Germany and fled to New York with his parents in 1936. He was in his late 40s when he shot Stations of the Elevated in 1977. He didn’t know anyone who wrote graffiti, and he’d never given it much thought.

” ‘As a matter of fact, there was a great deal of graffiti around that I didn’t pay much attention to,’ Kirchheimer says. Then he found himself driving up to the Bronx early in the morning, and he saw the trains running overhead.

” ‘They would come by and it would be screaming full of colors — just gorgeous,’ he says. ‘The smart thing I did was shoot it all outdoors. Most of the lines are indoors, and the way most people see these paintings was indoors. Doing it outdoors gave a whole other perspective.’

“It was a grittier time in New York’s history, when the city could barely afford to clean subway cars, inside or out. Most straphangers considered graffiti writers a nuisance, or worse. But Kirchheimer was focused on ‘elevating’ their work. …

” ‘The genre, if there is one, is one that goes back to the beginning of cinema. That’s the city symphony,’ says Jake Perlin, who is reissuing Stations of the Elevated through his company, Artists Public Domain. …

Stations of the Elevated contrasts the painted subway cars with outdoor advertising on billboards — giant images of cigarettes, alcohol and semi-nude women. Artist Quinones says the film captures something essential about a moment in the history of the graffiti movement, and of New York City, which is long gone.” See more at NPR, here.

You may also check out Criterion for a review by Joshua Brunsting: “This short documentary contains some really beautiful richly colorful photography of the elevated subways and the neighborhoods around them circa 1980. It’s filled with impressionistic scenes of subway cars, passengers and track workers, junkyards, neighborhood kids, billboards – scenes of everyday life. Interludes of Mingus drift in and out along with background subway announcements and ambient noise and conversation.”

And now that Artists Public Domain has settled the music rights question, you can get the movie here.

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I’m still getting used to having an iPhone and was surprised to learn that my new one was counting my steps. When my husband told me that in Japan, walking 10,000 steps a day is considered ideal for good health, I wondered if I could manage that. At home, it means taking two constitutionals a day, a feat I doubted I would be able to keep up in the winter.

But in New York City, no problem! One day this week I walked more than 16,500 steps without thinking twice. New York is just such a fun place to walk — so much to look at, constantly entertaining. Maybe the storefronts don’t change numerous times a day, but the array of people does. And their pushcarts, fruit stands, clothes, behaviors.

People seem so uninhibited in New York that you could express your inner self to an unheard-of degree and no one would blink. Of course it’s sad that some people on the streets clearly have mental illness. But being used to living around them seems to free up New Yorkers not to care much what people think of their own behavior. I watched one guy oblivious of furiously honking rush-hour traffic and blocking a whole lane while he tried to hook a car to his shish-kebob trailer after work.

Another slammed into wet leaves on a rented Citi Bike and wiped out with a loud crash in the middle of an intersection, picked the bike up, and went on his way. If that happened where I live, it would be on the front page of the local bugle the next Thursday.

Most of what I saw happened too fast for me to get a picture, but I include a couple things that stayed still.

It’s relatively quiet to walk along Riverside Drive in the early morning, and many people and dogs do. Other people sit on the benches and read the paper or drink coffee. This worn park bench had a plaque I particularly liked. It says, “The friends of Susan G. Schwartz honor her and remember how she taught us to sit still.”

Going home today to sit still.





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The first stage of waiting is over. Some bad things avoided, others not so good. While waiting for my sister to be out of surgery, I walked  around New York City, sometimes with her husband and close friend. I took these pictures.

I’m not going to add a lot of description, but I wanted you to know that the amazingly beautiful garden, managed by volunteers, is in Riverside Park, that there is lots of biking in Central Park in the morning, that the city has “cooling centers” for seniors on hot days, and that the place I’m staying has a lobby like the Alhambra.










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Photo: MICRO
A visitor examines the MICRO mollusk museum.

Good things come in small packages, even museums, as we saw in this 2013 post. Since then, enthusiasm for micro museums has only increased, as Margaret Carrigan reports at the Observer.

“When scientist Amanda Schochet and designer Charles Philipp unofficially started MICRO, they wanted to make the world’s smallest museum about mollusks, a passion of Schochet’s.

“They realized that might be easy, considering there were no real mollusk museums at all. But as they started developing content and design, the pair realized that even small museums could have a big impact.

“In a year-and-a-half, they’ve created five 6-foot-tall natural history museums that have been installed around New York City, with the latest unveiled in mid-December at the Ronald McDonald House on the Upper East Side. The goal for Schochet and Philipp is to foster equal access to fundamental knowledge by creating installations that can be found outside of the traditional museum setting. …

“With intentions to become the most-visited museum in the country within five years … Schochet and Philipp plan to debut a new MICRO museum module every year, starting with the core sciences before delving into math and art. Their first physics edition, the Museum of Perpetual Motion, [was scheduled to] launch in early February. …

“Philipp: It started as a kind of tongue-in-cheek idea just between my partner, Amanda, and I. Amanda is a computational ecologist and knew there was a really rich history of mollusks in New York, especially oysters. So when she first moved here a few years ago, we started looking into whether we could go to a museum about mollusks. But we couldn’t find one, so we joked that if we made the smallest mollusk museum it would also de facto be the largest. …

“It wasn’t until we had a four-hour wait in a doctor’s office that it seemed like there could really be a market for something like this. There was a captive audience right in front of us looking for entertainment, and something to distract them that wasn’t just whatever rerun was on the office television. It was then we realized a mini-museum could have an impact, and we bounced the idea off some friends who worked in museums who really saw some sort of potential.

“We started doing some research and found that something like 90 percent of museum visitors across the U.S. are non-Hispanic whites. We also found that there are 135 museums in Manhattan, but in the Bronx — which has a comparable population — there are only eight. These both seemed like problems that could be addressed by bringing more museums to areas where there were few institutions with larger populations of minorities. And one way to do that was make small museums that could be installed anywhere. …

“We don’t have enough room in MICRO to get into a lot of history and context, so we have to be really mindful about how to present information and how best to do it that would entice the average passerby: How do we make someone with little knowledge of the subject who is perhaps just in the middle of running an errand and totally focused on the day-to-day stuff they need to be doing interested and curious enough to spend 10 minutes learning?

“We’ve come up with some interesting ways of solving that. In the mollusk museums, we’ve installed an eye-catching hologram in the base of it that boasts a digital aquarium. And we chose to use recognizable B-movie alien characters as a way of introducing mollusks to the viewer, since we found that many of them are based on these organisms because they seem so otherworldly.” More here.

I love that they want to get their museums into the Department of Motor Vehicles. Now that is an idea whose time has come!

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Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Sing For Hope
Jon Batiste performing on June 5 at the 6th Annual Sing for Hope Pianos Kickoff Event at 28 Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. You may know Batiste from Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.

Many of the artists, musicians, and theater people who live and work in New York City believe in the importance of bringing the arts to children in underserved schools. And they are turning their beliefs into action by supporting Sing for Hope.

On June 5, Sing for Hope sent out a press release on the unveiling of 60 new artist-designed pianos destined to go to public schools after a summer on the streets.

“Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader and Sing for Hope Board Member Jon Batiste kicked off the performances at 12 noon, followed by a special performance of Bach’s Prelude in C performed by 45 pianists simultaneously on 30 Sing for Hope Pianos. Other performances included renowned pianist Michael Fennelly, who played Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’

“Each year, Sing for Hope selects local and international artists to create unique piano artworks that are placed in parks and other public spaces for anyone and everyone to play. This year, through a special partnership with the New York City Department of Education, Sing for Hope will place all of the Sing for Hope Pianos in permanent homes in NYC public schools after the pianos’ time on the streets, benefiting an estimated 15,000 New York City school children. …

“This summer marks the placement of the 400th Sing for Hope Piano to date, making NYC host to more street pianos than any other city in the world. …

“In time for the big reveal of the 2017 Sing for Hope Pianos, the world’s first-ever mobile app for street piano discovery and engagement is now available. The app helps people to discover, visit and play the pianos – and then share their experiences via social media. Now in its third year, the app will allow people to take curated tours of the pianos, discover special concerts by artists and performers taking place at the pianos, and sign up to give their own pop-up performances on the pianos. The app, designed and developed by Craver Inc., is free to download and available in the App Store.”

More here.

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