An inedible testament to mankind’s thoughtlessness…

Indiana Clare and the New York Pyramid

As the car slowed, a mangy grey tabby emerged from behind a tombstone and started a quick trot towards us. We were sitting in the backseat of one of Greenwood Cemetery‘s patrol cars.

“That’s Maisie,” M. explained. “I sometimes let her ride up front with me.”

Ten minutes ago we had been trying to get out of Greenwood Cemetery. It was lunch time, we had been walking for two hours amongst mausoleums, cenotaphs and tombs, but the exits on the western side were locked. My friend stopped a patrol car and asked for directions. The officer told us to get in and he’d drop us off at the main entrance. “That’s where Al Capone’s right hand man is buried…” The car stopped at a fork in the road. “You know what, I don’t need to be back for half an hour. There are some things you have to see.” The car jerked back into motion. In our attempts to leave, we had somehow found ourselves on a guided tour of New York’s largest cemetery.

M. was our guide. A young blonde haired Brooklynite with dark sunglasses. This was his second job. He had worked at the cemetery for two years. He’d bought a burial plot there. “It’s real estate.” His true passions were photography and acting. One year M. played an Englishman in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn. He had a musket. “It was so much fun! Someone forgot to notify the police there would be cannon going off and the bomb squad turned up…” In two years, M. knew the layout and the history of Greenwood like he was born in it.

Suddenly the cemetery was populated with over 900,000 burials including General Washington’s soldiers from the Battle of Brooklyn, mobsters, murderers, inventors, victims of plane collisions, Titanic survivors and M.’s grandparents. M. knew which plots of land had been released, which stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany and where they used to store bodies in the winter before they had machinery to dig through frozen soil. We were introduced to the cemetery’s living inhabitants – Shelley the prehistoric turtle who lived in Sylvan Waters (one of the cemetery’s lakes), her offspring and of course Maisie the cat.

I looked back at Maisie, who sat in the middle of the road and watched us leave. Behind us was a perfectly formed pyramid nestled in the hill. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.

M. dropped us off at the main entrance and told us to check out the history books. We went inside, we picked up a map each and my friend signed the petition to save the line of sight between Minevra, a statue in Greenwood, and her sister the Statue of Liberty. Just as we were about the leave, M. rushed over. “Get in. There’s one last thing I have to show you.”

My friend and I exchanged glances and got back into the patrol car. “This,” M. announced as he pulled up infront of a slab tomb, “is where the man who invented carbonation for Coca-cola is buried!”

Miscellaneous New York

Williamsburg Bridge

Me, Times Square, McDonalds and a woman being eaten by a coat

Pete's Candy Store - A great little venue for a reading of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

Subway advertisement

Mosaics, Public Art and the Transit Museum

December 2010

The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) puts one percent of its subway construction budget towards public art. The mosaics, sculptures and other assorted artworks that resulted from this policy are found throughout New York’s transit system. A guided tour of the Transit Museum provides a detailed history of the subway network and provides photos of conceptual art behind the many artworks. Wish some of the world’s cement carparks would follow the MTA’s example.

Photo of a Transit Museum photo of Brandt's 2002 Room of Tranquility at 161st Street

For more, better photos not taken by me:
The New York Subway Art Guide

Jazz with no photos…

Those who know me will know that I have little to no musical appreciation. I am frequently getting into trouble for not successfully identifying which Beatles are alive and asking questions like “Is Marvin Gay a one-hit wonder?” Despite an aversion to noise in general, I sometimes find myself listening to music. This occurred on several occasions in New York. I don’t know how to write about music so I’ll write about where I heard music and conclude that I liked it.

The Jazz Vocalist Series at Zeb’s
We walked up some narrow stairs to a large Manhattan apartment. The room had wooden floor boards, cream-coloured walls and wood panels attached to the walls to absorb the sound. it had been fitted out as a music studio. About sixty plastic fold out chairs were set out in rows in front of a microphone, piano, double bass, jazz guitar and assorted audio paraphernalia. There was a portable metal coat-rack – the kind you get at Ikea – and a little side table with a bowl of potato chips, a plate of cookies and bottles of wine and cranberry cordial. A “Private” sign hung over two double doors that led to the rest of the apartment. This is Zeb’s and every Wednesday night he holds a jazz vocalist series followed by open mic. Zeb (jazz guitar) and his friends backed up the night’s lead – Gregory Porter. Three days after accepting the gig at Zeb’s Porter was nominated for a Grammy. He can often be found singing in various venues in Harlem. Porter sang. The band played. I liked it a lot. I particularly liked Be Good, the chain-gang song and 1960. What? Afterwards, many other jazz singers stood up for the open mic. It’s hard to believe I paid only $10 for the privilege.

Cedar Walton at the Village Vanguard
It was 10pm and cold and necessary to have a coffee from the Roasting Plant with its hi-tech grinding roasting coffee machine. We walked to the Village Vanguard, arguably one of the most famous jazz venues in New York and down some stairs to the basement. The room was tighly packed with chairs and tiny drinks tables. Photos of jazz legends hung on the walls. The decor was highlighted by warm but slightly dank green paint. Cedar Walton, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ piano player, was performing that night. We had booked months in advance for the 11pm set. But only 25 people were in attendance. Some turn out for the old jazz guard. Cedar Walton, now in his 70s, was joined on stage by David Williams (double bass) and Willie Jones III (drums). I became fixated by the bass and the bass player. The bass looked handmade. It was made from a lightish wood.You could see the hinges and the glue between the panels. A washer was stuffed beneath the bridge next to a faded pinky-red leather bow sheath. A strap wrapped around the upper part of the instrument. You could see dints and scratches. Am very sorry I didn’t find out the bass’ story or get a photo. The Cedar Walton Trio played and it was good. I liked it a lot.

The Skyscraper Museum

December 2010

We found ourselves at the entrance to Wall Street. I hoped to find pyramid schemes, if not pyramids. We swiped our credit cards at the turnstyles. Two authoritarian security guards dressed in black coats spoke. “You cannot enter here. Your credit cards are not platinum.” I looked around me. Smug men sucked on their cigars and pushed through the turnstyles to the promised land beyond*. I could work a second job, pay my income into a rent-controlled studio apartment ($1200 a month in Hell’s Kitchen), accept one of American Express’ generous credit card offers and buy a box of cigars. With these shibboleths, perhaps I could persuade the guards that I was in genuine pursuit of happiness. Instead we caught the Staten Island ferry for free and saw Lady Liberty waving in the distance.

Later we went to the Skyscraper Museum. It focused on the built structures of the financial district, rather than the construction of Manhattan as a whole. The surly receptionist ungraciously took our money, snarled some instructions then snapped when we went the wrong way. She must have been having a bad day. Maybe her pyramid scheme fell through. The museum was as disappointing as the receptionist. The highlight was an old documentary on the construction of the original Twin Towers. I found a miniature of the city. No pyramids in that cityscape. I may have to change the scale of the quest and look for slightly smaller pyramids. Or maybe start searching for the meaning of life. I’m running out of pyramid jokes.

The pyramid-less skyline of Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry

Statue of Liberty in the distance

*This may be fictional. To my knowledge there are no such turnstyles or restrictions to entering Wall Street.

The Food Pyramid

December 2010

The quest for pyramids is hungry business. Fortunately there is a lot to eat in New York. There is so much to eat that the city of New York has had to enlist the entire population to eat it. The exact chain of food supply, distribution and waste management is not well understood. In 2010 Columbia University published a brief study trying to identify the basic elements of food supply for New York City. City Harvest collects 35,000kg of leftover food a day and redistributes it to New York’s hungry.

Our contribution to consumption was modest. For those who appreciate vegan food, I recommend Ozu’s almond cream, azuki mousse, chocolate tofu pie and jasmine tea; Peacefood Cafe‘s peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate ganache, dumplings, soup and Daiya ‘cheese’; Wild Ginger‘s menu in general and; Quantum Leap’s Big Leap Burger. Happiness indeed for the vegan in New York City.

In the non-vegan category and in general there were many many cheesecakes, cheeseburgers and cheap pizza slices of happiness. Good coffee was hard to find. Roasting Plant Coffee on 7th Avenue had some groovy pneumatic tube grinding and roasting contraption that resulted in tasty coffee. Ecopolis in Brooklyn on Smith Street was also above par. I didn’t partake but who can object to street stands selling milkshakes and cupcakes…

Cupcakes outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chasing Pyramids

In the mornings, while Matt does his writing, I stalk through the streets and museums of New York. If this was France and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the Louvre, I would have sighted a pyramid before the week was out. Alas, this is New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is just the Met and I have had to make do with the contents of pyramids.

I’ve had to make do with 90,000 year old stone tools, evidence of the beginnings of metalwork and ivory knife handles that, if you look at up close, you can see the ferocious expressions of carved lions. Middle Kingdom wooden models of boats, breweries, bakeries and butchers. Granite statues of Sekhmet, Thoth, Horemheb and the ‘hoteps. Sure, the Met has grave goods, a tomb and a temple. But the pottery? Not even remotely pyramid shaped.

I shall take comfort in that if were I in France, knowing the exact location of a pyramid, I would not have the thrill of the chase, the hunt. Also, I think the Louvre pyramid might be too slippery to climb.

Pyramid Hunting in New York

The Guggenheim Museum, with its Frank Lloyd designed spirals and curves, was not conducive to pyramid-sighting. There were some well-formed triangles from Kandinsky, some inspired cubism from Marcel Grommaire and Leger, and some pointed ballerinas from Degas. Cones, yes. Pyramids, no. Otto Dix seemed more interested in blood and guts than geometry. I made my way up and down the spiral path, determined not to be seduced by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Chaos and Classicism exhibition. I had a mission.

Next in my quest for pyramids was the American Museum of Natural History on 81st Street. For a paltry $1 I learnt that the earth was approximately 4.8 billion years old, learnt how different types of rock formed and how to take an icecore sample. I saw a slab of the oldest known rock formation on earth (imported from Greenland) and several large meteorites, one so dense that it required concrete pylons to be constructed deep into the museum’s foundations to support its display on the 1st floor. I found a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an Albertosaur, an Archaeopteryx, a specimen of the Australian lungfish, Pleseosaurus, and the antecedents of birds, fish, frogs and turtles. I took a refresher course in human evolution and dragged Matt from cast displays of Lucy, Turkana Boy to Achulian and Levallois stone tools dating back 300,000 years. They had a cast of the skulls recovered from Lake Mungo (c. 35,000 years ago) and Kow Swamp (c.10,000 years ago/Pleistocene era). I casually made it known that I had participated in a minor capacity in excavating Pleistocene-dated stone tools in Wonthaggi, Victoria. I waved my arms enthusiastically in front of a mammoth, Diprotodon, giant proto-anteater and proto-sloth (Lepradon). I found some dioramas representing salmon traps that had been made by the North-west Coast Indians. It reminded me that I never finished reading about the eel trap settlement around Lake Condah, Victoria. I spent 8 hours over two days in the Natural History Museum, seeing approximately 45% of the collections on display. I am grieved to report that I did not locate any pyramids. I also didn’t find any unnamed dinosaurs I could name after Katie*. But all is not lost: a little plaque on the fourth floor said there were many fossils in their collection and too few archaeologists paleontologists to study them. I could always retrain…

*When a high school friend of mine found out that I got a job in archaeology she made me promise under duress that I would name a dinosaur after her. I am still looking. I just tend to get distracted by things that have existed within the last 30,000 years.

Things I have found amusing in New York

Despite the ambiguous name, the 3 Star Coffee a great friendly place for a cheap, decent feed. Family run for over 45 years.

Eight dollars before tax and tip at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Bar. The service was the worst I’ve had since arriving here. The Plaza Hotel may be a good source of funds for building a pyramid.

A common sight in Central Park and the Upper West Side.