Balloons are not for the faint-hearted. They wilt, pop, fly away and teach children the true meaning of tragedy. Here, I saw two dozen helium balloons hanging like golden fruit in the leafless branches of a lonely sidewalk tree. This was not on purpose. But for karma's sake, I decided to pretend it was. The cheery cluster looked like a big bunch of grapes ready for harvest. They shimmered like soap bubbles. They gave the street a festive party mood that triumphed over freezing temperatures, trash and slush on a grey January day. All you had to do for things to look up was look up.
Women's shoe choices often give mixed messages. At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, actresses wore #TimesUp black gowns with precarious stilettos. High shoes lend power but are destabilizing. It's so much easier to protest in flats.
Not all flats are created equal. I stumbled across a high-end shoe sale and wondered if, as with social media, shoe designers had to shout to be heard. The parade of wallflower racks held the inane, the insane, and the downright hilarious. There were leftover platformed Timberlands with a stainless steel retainer tip, a burgundy brogue with a pink feather and rhinestone side buckle, and gold-dipped booties tied up with a dainty bow. You had to smile. The ultimate punch line was a zipped fake foot in a red stiletto heel that made me think of the creepy 1971 movie, Klute.
Maybe outrageous times call for outrageous footwear. But the Golden Globes showed that when it comes to silhouette, some shoes are just too beautiful to #resist.
I don't know about you, but I'm mighty glad to have 2017 in rear view. I share Whoopi Goldberg's 2018 resolution: "To be more resolute." I look around for inspiring images of fortitude all over. Above, Fernando Botero's mighty "Eve" in the Time Warner Center projects an air of unshakable strength. Naked but not vulnerable, she towers over scores of bundled-up winter shoppers seeking shelter from the record cold.
As the New Year approaches, the thought of changing up things appeals. This morning I peered out the window through the bottom of my unfilled water glass like a sailor with a spyglass. It turned a rooftop water tank into a bird and nearby buildings into canyon walls. Little kids lean back on swings, spin in crazy circles and look at the world upside down through their legs. They play with perspective on a daily basis. I want to do more of that this year. By refreshing our view, we refresh ourselves, too. What could you see differently?
A friend of mine once looked out her window in deepest night and saw a parade of elephants underneath. She described it to me so vividly that I almost stole it as my own memory. It turned out she wasn't dreaming. The only way to get the Ringling Bros. elephants to Madison Square Garden each year was to walk them across Manhattan when the streets were empty. Her vision of pachyderms on Park was real.
That circus folded in May, 2017, but our collective fantasy of seeing elements of the greatest show on earth lives on. This year's Bloomingdale's New York celebrates it with windows themed to the new P. T. Barnum movie, "The Greatest Showman." You can step right up to view the bearded lady (above), the snake charmer, the fortune teller and the trapeze artist all captured at work and play. The store's message is of fabulous individuality, inclusion, and, of course, shop until you drop. No elephants required.
I've seen just about everything lugged on a city bus, from musicians hoisting 6-foot-tall double basses to millennials with unassembled furniture. This was my first live Christmas tree though. The passenger swiped himself on and positioned his fragrant cargo in a seat in the back. I hoped the miniscule bus forest might inspire a round of holiday carols ("Deck the Halls" would have been nice), but the M5 bus is no La La Land. So I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply and imagined I could smell fir boughs all the way home.
You'd have to be very jaded or a retail atheist not to get excited by the visual artistry in New York City's holiday windows. Each year Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue create bedazzling sidewalk displays that in my mind outperform the towering spectacle of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Bergdorf's theatrical stage sets—perhaps due to the architectural scale of the actual window frames and the bottomless talent of visual director David Hoey—are usually my favorite. This year's BG masterpiece windows (slideshow here) are no exception. Fanciful, elaborate and technically superb, they celebrate the city's great cultural institutions like The New York Philharmonic, above.
In the window, a cascade of neon instruments light up in sequence and crescendo visually to full blast. Prismatic perspective shows how symphonic music pours out, around, and over you. A flamboyant and flame-haired conductor ignites the scene with back turned and arms raised. My secret fantasy is that as she conducts, she shatters something—not the window—but the notorious gendered glass ceiling of most of the world's great symphony orchestras.
What's that sound you hear? It's a #metoo army of stiletto heels grinding glass shards into grains of sand. Applause, please.
I like to think there are trolls with poles underneath. If there were fish, what would they look like? Maya Lin's gorgeous and sensual Storm King Wavefield, above, is awash in living contradictions. Grass swells like water. Ocean waves mimic mountain ridges. An artist-designed tide flows to nowhere. Weeds, waves and rows of distant trees part like a classic landscape painting into fore, middle and background. And everywhere, shade upon shade of mysterious purple rust. I crave this beautiful decay, before the white.
I'm obsessed with purple in nature. Right now, fields and leaves are rusting into deep purple. I see a purple rain of farmer's market vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, Peruvian potatoes, yams, radishes and of course eggplant. Purple is the color of royalty, but it's also a sneaky disrupter. Add purple to a pastel bouquet or dinner plate and it looks sexy and subversive. I once knew a teenager, Alice, who painted her room from floor to ceiling in dark purple. Surely she'd appreciate the rebellious cauliflower above.
New Yorkers can be a funny bunch. We're proud of the larger-than-life traditions here—Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Times Square New Year's Eve, Fourth of July fireworks—but the truth is we watch most of them on television like everyone else. I regularly give thanks that I can do the Macy's Day parade in my cozy kitchen while I clean up from the night before and cook for the day ahead. But if someone with a direct view invites me to their apartment, I give in. There's nothing like having a giant balloon practically smack you in the face. Seen from above, the careful coordination of the parade's diligent rope handlers are as incredible as the floating cartoons. Like orchestras and sports teams, its a harmonic convergence. For one handler's personal take on how it all happens, read here.
I'd like to ask this car its name. It's not often you run across a heavy Cadillac Escalade with a sport car's soul. I saw it parked on a side street and stopped to admire its cartoonish grin and purple side-eye. In front, a big smile ran underneath its grill and headlights looked like eyes. You had to laugh. It's funny how often we assume that big hulks are serious or tough. I'm always surprised when I see a very large man cradling a tiny Yorkie. And I'm not sure I'd have the guts to cover a large expensive car in funny graphics. But driving is less lonely and parking is more fun when your car feels like a pet. Here, God is in the "details." Or, I should say, detailing.
Sometimes when New England fog rolls in off the coast overnight and wraps inland maples in a morning blanket of infinite drips, you can't help but wonder if you mysteriously woke up inside a painting. Photo above unaltered. Morning, yes.
Autumn is the twilight of the seasons. As the time changes and the daylight shortens, I try to embrace the moody beauty of the dark (though what we really want to do is mourn the passing of the light). The melancholy spirit of this antiquated 69th Street Transfer Bridge on the Hudson River, shot at sunset, illustrates this. Neither useful nor elegant, its hulking presence glowers at the gaily-lit cruise ships sailing by. Its rotting pier frowns like a mouth missing half its teeth. Its century-old wheel and pulley obsolesce in the shadow of a super-tall building crane. And yet, it's just exquisite, isn't it?
Halloween decorations usually feel whimsical to me. This year they feel like an exorcism. Maybe that's why I'm seeing more city people and their buildings than ever before all dressed and accessorized in honor of the hallowed evening. If the real world already feels full of scary demons, ghouls and orange clowns, why not mock them (and our anxiety) with over-the-top satirical costumes and building decorations? Putting it all out there in super-fake unreality takes our fears down a notch. I saw this frozen, bleeding motley crew on a lovely townhouse front and you know what my first thought was? Congress.
Buttoned-up usually refers to a finely tuned operation or a conservative manner. Buttoned-down is typically conventional. But definitions crumble when the buttoned (down or up) item in question is an outgoing red apron. This self-proclaimed people person and cheerful greeter at the cozy Breads Bakery near Lincoln Center wears a hu-manifesto made of upbeat buttons given to him by customers. Here, personal resistance takes the form of being polite, loving, democratic, and musical theater-going. Not to mention offering strangers a visual hug.
American seasonal flavors and scents are threatening to turn pumpkin season into one giant corporate cliché. You know autumn is here when pumpkin donuts, bagels and cream cheese come rolling out of Dunkin' Donuts. Ditto Starbucks' pumpkin-flavored lattés, Frappuccinos® and scones. Even Oreos, M&M's, deodorant, and, hilariously, pet shampoo are getting pumpkinized, reports Fortune. Personally, I like my gourds in shards. For years, I've applauded the changing of the leaves by watching farmers at Daisi Hill Farm in Millerton, New York, load pumpkins large as cannon balls onto a handmade medieval-style catapult. There's more deep-bodied joy in watching them fly through sky to explode in a distant field than all the pumpkin-spiced goods in the world will ever deliver. Unless, of course, you're the pumpkin.
Design that speaks out can whisper or shout. I see more people wearing their values on their sleeve (or caps, jackets, sweatshirts and backpacks) with slogans and small buttons that promote love, equality and resistance. I also notice the proliferations of anti-hate posters and flags on the doors of independent stores, on sides of churches, and here, on the glass-front entrance wall of a Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. The sheer size and profundity of this sign, along with the invisible burden carried by a stooped passerby, left me speechless—but not for long.
Walking near the 79th Street Boat Basin, I noticed that this rusted iron nautical ring bent its neck in the same graceful arc as two female Mallard ducks perched beside it. Bolted and yoked, it seemed burdened by time and water. Immediately, I thought of T.S. Eliot's third. In his epic poem, The Waste Land, Eliot asks, "Who is the third who walks always beside you...Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded...who is that on the other side of you?" Eliot's "third" refers to a guardian angel or spiritual support (see Third Man factor for why). Here, of course, it is the ducks who can glide. The ring gives strength by being strong and immobile. I loved watching the two ducks flex and swivel their necks next to an imagined mirror third. A few seconds later, they swam off.
Mighty ants have six legs. So does this man who mistook his chair for a hat. His reverse cargo turns heads as he carries it forward in an efficient and ancient Egyptian solution. A passing Shleppers moving truck echoes his place in the universe. Still, he soldiers on. People's burdens are rarely so visible but this one transforms. His load creates a mythical shadow beast that rules the kingdom of the crosswalk. Without his labor (and those like him), none of us can be seated.
There are no dry paint signs. That simple fact transforms wet paint signs into an event: Transitory public performances whose main intrigue is their fleeting nature. Which surface was painted? Is it still wet? Can I touch it? What will my fingertip look like dotted in color? Did it happen today? Yesterday? At all? Running across wet painting in action is a little like catching Santa Claus wrapping gifts. I was oddly thrilled to witness this sidewalk performance. The artist wielding the red roller was proudly in the flow. Which changed me. Next time I come across a lonely wet paint testament, I'll look for clues about the painter rather than the painted.