Monday, March 25, 2013

Street Art Goes Postal

The image on the bottom reminds of Futurama but I would not be surprised if the reference was something else. Wasn’t there a one eyed sea monster named Cecil? There are only so many pop culture references worth retaining, I guess that’s why smart phones can access google.
The upper image seems a satire on the famed Rolling Stone logo, I guess “Flood” is the name of this local Banksy. The curves on both relate in a stab at symmetry with the curve of the metal mail box.

Jersey City street art – which I am using here for the stencils and such, not graffiti – mostly echo a playful, often irreverent tone, an apparent contrast to the overtly political and more often than not, confrontational attitude seen in similar stencils in London or New York. We can all use a smile seems to the intent. Here the two creatures seem in love, attracted to each other, and the mouth and a squirmy looking phallic form, implies, well, you know…
Side by side, the familiar USPS logo looks like street art, a mirror-universe, conformist opposite to the friendly, trippy monsters on the Relay Box.

That’s what they’re called, those green mail boxes. They’re mysterious, used only by postal workers to relay mail to each other. I read somewhere that since most carriers drive their routes, starting each day at the post office, these boxes have little use but you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Pity the poor green mail box. We’re never sure why you were here and it seems even those vague reasons we heard rumors that justified your existence are no longer applicable. The blue mail box, used every day, by civilians and postal workers alike, has no secrets except the confidential letters by those traditionalist sneaks still using snail mail to correspond, bears only faded original paint. Green box has been tagged by spray paint. Maybe that’s you new role in our lives, greenie. To be a canvas.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Newport View

First day of spring, wind not as harsh, walking along the river into Newport is a little more pleasant. A seagull perched, on guard, indifferent to my presence or the other riverside pedestrians. The sun out from hiding the past few days.

Glorious, the city and the view of that city, from here across the river. We are capable of this, why do we wage war and allow poverty? One reason why I live here is this view. There’s something about seeing a city, having a skyline as our constant backdrop, that makes me feel civilized and productive.

 On any given day, the view invokes our New Jerusalem, our city on the hill. Or MANHATTAN of screens large and small. Always the perfect exterior set up shot. This story takes place here (or here across the river from HERE). But the content of the view changes, subtle perhaps but change nonetheless. Construction projects progress; more freedom tower is evident, ferries come and go. The view is never static.


The view is always framed, by New Jersey, by the melding of Hoboken and Newport. Wooden posts mark the tide. So many piers are gone. Seagulls just wait it out, wait us out. We think of the background, the capital of the world, our beloved Manhattan. But the background we live with is framed by the foreground – in effect, defined by the foreground. We see the jagged buildings against the horizon, our eyes follow the changing topography of uptown fading into downtown (just like Hoboken fades into Newport, a less visible metamorphosis, to those on the non-Jersey side), but always framed by our side, our lives, the edges of Hoboken rail life, the river-faring remnants, the new glass and steel mixed-used Newport, with housing units and stores. Our New York always includes our New Jersey. Our frame defines our view.



Monday, March 18, 2013

Village Den Mural

The Village Den is a better than competent diner in NYC (on west 12th street, I can’t find a website). Better than competent, almost good enough to be a N.J. diner, but at least it is a reasonably priced dining oasis in a neighborhood where meals can be so expensive many restaurants now offer financing plans with dinner.
The restaurant has this mural – I can’t find that the name of the artist – that is a reimagined Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci and at the table are famed New York Luminaries Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, Sammy Davis Jr.

Judy Garland and Jackie Kennedy Onassis are oddly the only woman, oddly because the artist could only think of two representational NYC celebrities (the biasis the artists, not the city it celebrates). The long haired gent in the middle – the only dressed casually, bohemian style – in the Da Vinci painting he occupies the seating pattern of Jesus – is the owner of the Village Den, or so the employees told me the night I snapped these shots.
The inherent chauvinism of N.Y. is on display in this mural –the capital of the world – seems everyone of these celebrities push the limit of acceptable level of arrogance. They also invoke the imaginary gold age of the town. On the surface one might think the joke is that all these celebrities actually once gathered in one place, but maybe the real humor is the notion they all gathered at this diner, dressed to the nines – except for DiMaggio, who wears Yankee pinstripes. I guess the artist was a little wary that DiMaggio could be recognizable out of uniform, as if there never was a Mr. Coffee. It is funny to imagine Joltin Joe bereaved about Marylyn, forever Jealous of Arthur Miller, showing up at a Village Den party in his baseball suit years after his career ended.
Well, DiMaggio had identifiable garb. In case these depictions strayed too far into unintended caricature, a “place holder,” with each celeb’s name is in view in the painting.

The painting reminds me of Rock Dreams. This book of illustrations by Guy Peellaert was a big deal. I never owned a copy, but we would look at in book stores like Brentano’s for hours. The illustration style was photorealistic – you could tell who they were, but the characters were placed in settings evocative of their image (I think the Velvet Underground were shooting up in the alley). It was the era when Rock stars were not only celebrities, they weren’t all over the place. The radio, Rolling Stone, that was it, unless you went to see them Live. There was no MTV or VH1, even a People magazine story was a rarity. Occasionally they might appear on The Tonight Show – Ed Sullivan was long cancelled – but even then it was not every episode of the show and it was only a song or two, not the entire broadcast. Records were the main diversion from our teenage despair and the artists who made those Wonder Years albums existed mainly in our imagination. Rock Dreams was our imaginations made real, luckily coinciding with the implied marketing image. Peellaert also did the covers for Diamond Dogs and It’s Only Rock & Roll, and I think Moondog Matinee, or that may have been a Peelaert rip off.
A similar intention seems behind the Village Den mural. A Manhattan golden age – when New York celebrities all seemed just like us – a past that never existed outside of our dreams.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Girder Stack

I think they’re girders, at least. Thick wooden beams, stacked.  Rust coats, slowly corrodes, as corrosion must be. The lot is near the western Grove Street Path station, the new one they built, there’s a lot with a fresh, brush and asphalt. A puddle that never evaporates. It’s as big as a pond now. Steel stubs protrude from the ground. Something used to be here and it will be a while before the plans are finalized and the bribe list organized for the next development to appear. Our memories of here remain as inexplicable as this present.

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton

Found this statue of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton at St. Peter church, on Barclay Street by the WTC, also called the ground zero church due to its proximity to the events of 911, the closest church to the World Trade Center.
Saint Seton was the first American-born saint and was all about charity, she founded the Sisters of Charity.  Her iconography is limited. She is usually depicted in a simple bonnet and dress, obviously the proto-habit of the order she founded, and holding a rosary.  Statues are more uncommon. This is the first I’ve seen in real life (i.e. non-internet).
 This is obviously, a modern statue, with its expressionist form and lines, yet there's a neo-middle age feel, an animated, mystical form as opposed to the more accurate representation of classicism, of ancient Greek and Roman statuary.
 Also uncommon, although far from unheard of, is another individual contained in the symbolism of the statue. A man on his knees, presumably poor; Saint Seton is helping him, a gesture of charity. The saint helps up the destitute. I love the way she bends over; the suggestion of physicality is quite tangible. An actual moment is captured.
Saint Seton, an Episcopalian, was a convert to Catholicism. Also a mother of five children; it is said she started her first school to ensure her children received an education. She was also not a martyr.
Pope Paul VI canonized Seton in 1975, during the first time the United Nations declared the year of the woman. For the first century and a half of the United States, the relationship between the Vatican and the U.S. went from chilly to contentious. A motivational factor for pilgrims separating from the church of England and came to the U.S., was their belief that the Church of England had become too catholic. Down with popery was the rallying cry of nativists – who included a lot of Abolitionists – and the nativist movement was alive in the 20th century; prohibition was an anti-immigration movement, and most of those immigrants were papists. The Vatican too was always wary of a new nation and its freedom of religion, and the erosion of their sphere of influence – French, Spain, and Portugal had successful in terms of conversions throughout the New World, and Britain and the American Colonists were a counter to that influence. It’s no wonder that the Vatican was the only European government to fully recognize the Confederacy. Look at the candidacy of Al Smith for president in 1928, it would take another 30 years for John F. Kennedy to be elected – and he needed to assure the nation that he was American first. It was not until Ronald Reagan that the U.S. sent ambassadors to the Vatican.
Anyway, here some experts from the PPVI declaration of Seton’s Sainthood:
Yes, Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! … A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin-the principle of death-is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendor of divine grace…
Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice, we say to the great nation of the United States of America. Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. This most beautiful figure of a holy woman presents to the world and to history the affirmation of new and authentic riches that are yours: that religious spirituality which your temporal prosperity seemed to obscure…

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Just Below

I thought of those geological pictures in the dinosaur books I read as a kid, where the different periods of natural history were pictured like bands, layered on top of each, Neolithic, Paleolithic, Jurassic, etc. The pile of strata, all a different rank, a distinct time, yet those borderlines distinguishing each were obviously times of overlap. The geological record blends, just like social history. Do the stratum beneath the city blend? Here are the upper strata, the asphalt ripped open, what looks like water pipes, still a good distance above subway tunnels, even sewers – one always envisions catacombs like in Batman comic books. How much higher above the actual bedrock of the city founded here do we drive and walk?

Upside Down Stop

Pots? Where? Oh, Stop – do you really have to stop if the sign is not properly affixed? Looks like a make-shift sign, some kind of temporary traffic control solution now gone awry. Did it have something to do with the blizzard-like blast of snow, the grimy pile by the curb now the only remaining remnant? Pushed to the side, getting ready for the spring. Glad that’s over with.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Long Fallow, Now Gone

When I saw the lot of fresh rubble, all I thought was, darn I wish I saw the implosion, the destruction or perhaps in this case, the de-construction.

This store has been shuttered a long time, has to be more than five years. American hardware, a retro-Native American marquee. When it snowed, the sidewalk in front went unshoveled, causing a pedestrian hazard. All the retailers who were on this block have left, citing as a major reason this large, closed structure, an anchor of retail death. Most recently I’ve blogged about Made with Love leaving.
I remember when this hardware store was opened. I only went in a couple of times. There were no aisles; I think they mainly did wholesale but I could be wrong. The front was a counter, you asked for what you needed (I needed refrigerator light bulbs) and they went in the back, brought out what they had and you decided. I also remember the price sort of being made up on the spot; just give me two dollars sort of thing. It was pretty old school. But it was also dingy and dusty and a little unfriendly (totally the opposite to Downtown Hardware around the corner on Newark).
So, now we get to live with the rubble removal and the construction and whatever new building will be here. Jersey Avenue between Newark and ole Railroad Avenue has a nice hole in its Eastern middle. Meeting our new gap. I love the rubble, the debris a sign of what used to be, as temporary as the actual emptiness but even if only remnants are left that emptiness is not so acute.


So, I might have griped about the extraordinary amount of time this building was allowed to stay fallow, but I will still miss this painted boards of the store marquee, so mid-20th century and in a way, gives Jersey City its charm, things that linger long after their welcome.

Monday, March 11, 2013

America's Response Monument

The America's Response Monument – subtitled De Oppresso Liber – apparently, was located in some nearby lobby and is scheduled to be part of the Ground Zero Memorial. It is behind a fence by the WTC PATH station. The Freedom Tower, which I believe it is called, has risen in our horizon and is still being completed – I do not know the latest announced date of the opening– so I do not know if where the monument is now will be its permanent home or this is just a resting stop before it is again moved. I liked the idea thought however temporarily this statue is located behind a fence, amid construction equipment.

According to the wiki page, the bronze sculpture“commemorates the servicemen and women of America’s Special Operations response to 9/11, including those who fought in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, which led to the initial defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was conceived by a private citizen, sculpture Douwe Blumberg, and commissioned by an anonymous group of Wall Street bankers who lost friends in the 9/11 attacks.”

Initial defeat? Is that some kind of military-speak for temporary set back at the beginning of the longest war in American history?

Military monuments spark a complexity of emotions in me and yes initially I feel patriotic, and in awe of the honor and bravery commemorated. I believe or at least hope that ultimately justice was achieved. How can you not experience those feelings for the Unknown Soldier or the Vietnam War Memorial (as examples)?

Wars are result from leadership failures – on both sides – the old and rich lead us to war, the young and poor die. It is always thus. I have posted about 9-11 many times and there has been too much bloody water under that bridge for me to be in a memorial-mood. I don’t feel solemn respect, I feel an unquenchable anger.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a memorial. I just can’t let go of the bitterness, which is not just about Bush II or America, but the other side too. Islam and Islamic governments share blame; Islamic peoples were let down by their own leaders – Bin Laden came from the upper class.

No matter how at fault are American – as well as Israeli and European – policies are, to say they are solely to blame for all the problems in the Mideast comes from is a dishonest and destructive idea. After 9-11, there was no other choice but to invade Afghanistan. It’s everything that happened before – and after – that continues to gall.

The opening chapter of the conflict had Special Forces using horses to traverse the Afghanistan Terrain, which this sculpture immortalizes. It is a vivid depiction that conveys bravery and determination. The first line of the inscription is “cowardly attacks” and I remember Bill Maher getting lambasted and forced off broadcast TV in the land of the free when he disputed the concept of someone fulfilling a suicide attack as a coward. Using the C-word not only invoked that ten year old controversy but seems to diminish the violence and tragedy of 9-11. Name Calling seems out of place, seems contrary to honor and bravery and the hallowedness of this spot, where 3,000 died because they went to work on one day. The sculpture memorializes an overlooked chapter and ignored heroes of the conflict. To embed saber rattling in the memorial cheapens the sincerity of feeling it intends to convey.
But in spite of the context, it’s a heart-stirring statue. The still-life is infused with action; there’s no way its suggestion of movement cannot affect. In its present location, the horse seems minutes away from leaping over the fence.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Brunswick Street Garden Tastes Spring

Luke is one of the gardeners at the Brunswick Street Community Garden. I pass by all the time and there’s an even an occasional blog post, a picture through the fence with a (hopefully) witty and/or insightful caption. Seems though I’ve never been by while there were people there.

 On Saturday I walked by and the gate was opened and Luke was busy cleaning up a flower bed outside the fence, beautifying the space between the sidewalk and the fence. He was getting ready for the year’s first blooms; spring flowers, such as crocuses and daffodils.


Friday was a snow storm – windy, wet – cold wintery mix –drearily annoying. Saturday though here comes the sun, rapidly melting the snow; no need for the scarf or gloves. Why zipper up the jacket?

Early Spring. Luke is out getting the garden ready. His home is one of the ones adjacent to the community lot. It might still be too early for most planting, even to begin serious tilling but there is some gardening activity to be done. Technically, it’s the first gardening suitable day of the year.

The garden abuts the embankment. Ivory spreads up the stone wall of this vestige of America’s glorious Rail Road past. Cats make the garden their home. Some are semi-feral, others just local housecats whose owners grant them outdoor roaming privileges. Somebody feeds the cats every day. A large white cat sits on one of the hutches; others are nearby, secluded in sparse branches. They survey their territory, striking fear in the hearts of the Brunswick Street rodent population.

 Jersey City dirt is filled with lead, a legacy of our industrial past and system of potical bribery. This garden is mainly for flowers; vegetables are grown in above ground planters. Lots are assigned to neighborhood residents, there’s a waiting list. The popularity of the impulse to grow something seems unabated.

Except for boughs ripped from a tree, there was little Sandy damage. The sign was knocked off the fence. Flooding hit this neighborhood hard. It’s the Downtown lowlands after all. No basement was immune, but the period of ultra sogginess had little impact on Brunswick soil. Luke says he’s seen worse damage from other storms. Dried, dead flatten vegetation and brush and the various bits of debris scattered around the patches of snow indicates that the garden seems untouched since October. Sandy came at the end of the harvest, certainly followed the life cycle of the flowers and bushes of Brunswick Street Community Garden. During the summer, there’s so much life here. What’s left behind, emerging as winter wanes, reminds us of seasons yet to come

 A taste of spring, amidst the remains of last year, Luke the gardener sees what can be planted. New life is contained in the dirt beneath the decay. We have to wait to see what will bloom but hope is always here right now.