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.
The person (or people) who created this got to say with pride: "Today I made love on the beach!" I stumbled across it on a long walk and could say, "I found love on the beach." And then I realized that the only way to make this love everlasting was to shoot it.
Smart cars are so adorable you just want to pick them up and put them in your pocket. Whenever I see one, I hope these extremely efficient and small-is-beautiful Mercedes are counterbalancing the horrendous number of gas-guzzling black SUV's picking up in the city. The jelly bean-sized cars are so well-designed for the Rush Hour maze that even the NYPD bought a fleet.
Some owners can't resist gloating. When I saw this blue subcompact backing up into a luggage-sized space, I thought, what a real New York car. It wasn't just Smart, it was also Smart-ass.
These eggs called out loudly to my inner narcissist. Reading my name in the unlikeliest place— the bright neon of a refrigerated shelf— made me laugh. Fresh foods was giving me a shout out?
Which made me think. What if our future In Real Retail Life (IRRL) interactions were hyper-customized just like current online "Amazon/Netflix recommends"? What if we saw things just for us everywhere? In a boutique, Carol’s jeans, Carol’s dress. At the hardware shop, Carol’s light bulb, Carol’s nail. Even on stickered fruit: Carol's banana. We'd all be trapped in a claustrophobic echo chamber of our own historic tastes (and yes, it's already happened with politics). Your name here, everywhere.
On the other hand, who could resist a small cute box of humane heirloom blue eggs? Thanks, Carol, whoever you are.
I wish I could witness the total eclipse on August 21, but I'll have to make do with a partial experience in my home city. It doesn't help that Annie Dillard wrote in her brilliant 1982 essay 'Total Eclipse': "Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him." Oh well.
Eclipses are dramatic because they connect polar opposites. We expect the sun and moon to revolve in harmony. When the moon obstructs the sun, it breaks every rule we know about nature. It's unbalancing. Dillard wrote that seeing the eclipse in Yakima, Washington was like "slipping into a fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering."
Night skies of textured velvet can also feel like fever dreams. Vaporous skies fascinate me. I took this photo through our windshield as we drove in a purple haze late into the night. It felt to me like clouds were devouring the moon—a midnight of the soul. Then I remembered that both clouds and moon were in fact lit by the sun.
With our torrent of selfies, a humble paper-cut profile can feel as retro as a manual typewriter. But when I saw these friends and travelers silhouetted against the Lincoln Center fountain on a beautiful August night, I was absorbed by their inky shadows. The subtle yet compelling profiles made me nostalgic for restraint—for whispering instead of shouting, for listening over talking, for reflection over tweeting, and even for black-and-white over color. I decided the couple on the left was on a first date, the two women in the middle were cherished old friends, and the man on the left was an exhausted but happy tourist. I remember a wonderful teacher who told troublemakers, "Can you get my attention in a positive way?" That's what this group silhouette did for me, quietly and stealthily, until I realized I was not only mesmerized but becalmed.
Have you ever gone to bed in one place and woken up in another? I don't mean mind-glazing benders, but rather sleep or travel induced changes of location. I have wonderful childhood memories of surprise return. You are driven home, say, from a county fair with your head wedged awkwardly on the back seat armrest and your feet piled on your brother's. Suddenly bright morning is here and your head rests gently on your own soft bed pillow. You might have a vague memory of being slung over the magic carpet of your father's shoulder in the dark, but really the whole thing is so surprising that you wonder if yesterday was dreamed.
Overnight arrival in a new place is more dislocating. You fall asleep on a plane, train or ship and you wake up to strangely invasive foreign sounds and smells. I once traveled to Chicago on an overnight railroad car and was stunned by the changes outside my window come morning. Or maybe you arrive at night somewhere, and when the next day comes, you awake to a jaw-dropping view you hadn't seen in the dark.
This lovely striped cucumber beetle traveled to my city kitchen on a berth of vibrant green and yellow squash blossoms from Wells Homestead farm in Aquebogue, Long Island. All I could think of was his immense surprise. He tucked into a soft blossom in a farm field under the stars at night, and ended up in Manhattan in the morning. It seemed cruel to kill him, so I captured him in a deli container and carried him outside to a new home in verdant Riverside Park. Long may he munch.
Hot air ballooning and baseball are not as different as you'd think. They both seduce you into searching a blue summer sky with joy and excitement. Time stands still—as in music or poetry— as you trace the fleeting arc of the soaring ball. The higher it flies, the more your feet don't touch the ground. The world around you quiets and disappears. For a moment, your heart is suspended in air and nothing else matters. And you think, this is weightlessness, what it feels like to fly. This is being six-years-old and lying smack flat on the grass to absorb the sky. This is summer, unfettered.
This emerald green hot air balloon floated out of nowhere above a friend's country lawn in Millbrook, New York, and we all ran out to admire it. We could barely see the people in the bucket, but we waved anyway. The boldly striped flying machine looked down on us and towering evergreens with complete superiority. We were insignificant, but we didn't care. We listened to it inhale and exhale loudly, whooshing like a giant doing yoga. It was above us for just a half-dozen breaths, and then it sailed out of our patch of cumulus-filled sky. Even after it left, a little bit of it stayed, like a memory of a home run. We had more space inside us.
See if you agree. Check out this beautiful National Geographic short film by Joel Schat of a New Mexican hot air balloon festival by clicking here.