One of the strangest interviews I ever did as a cub reporter was at the Russian & Turkish Baths. It was done entirely in the nude. It came floating back to me as I watched my dusty car get soaped up at another cleansing New York City institution: the West Side Highway Car Wash. Here, cars of all makes and models—from proletarian to presidential—get spanking clean while drivers watch through a plate glass window. Colorful neon lighting gives a happy disco feeling to each cleaning cycle. The car wash is 71-years-old and has a vintage electric sign, but it continues to innovate with eco-friendly products, water recycling and surprisingly artisanal snacks. Delicious Underwest Donuts operates a small coffee shop inside and makes fresh donuts in flavors like "car wash" (lavender-vanilla) upstairs. There's always a line at this popular destination. Which all goes to show that in the naked city, grime actually does pay.
Shadow graffiti is some of New York City's best street art. It's free, democratic and completely transient—here today, maybe gone tomorrow. Grates, fences and tall buildings etch awesome patterns when the sun is overhead. I run across jaw-dropping graphic shadows in the most mundane places, like under these elevated train tracks outside Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A huge crowd milled outside the stadium gates, but this street right next to it was closed to traffic and empty. I got lost in the act of watching the lines converge. In the near distance, a colorful arrow on right seemed to say, "Check this out." In the middle distance, three pedestrians crossed in a single line like a Bronx version of the Abbey Road album cover. In the far distance, perspective narrowed the initial broad lines to a point. People were waiting for me. So I dragged myself away to the game.
Walking around the city, I regularly find answers to questions I forgot to ask. Like how in these stupefyingly hot August days do Broadway's beautifully planted medians survive? I might have imagined a scenario of thousands of little green thumb gremlins with silver watering cans swarming the avenue in the middle of the night. But when I saw this powerful red watering truck with a shotgun landscaper spraying up the avenue, I realized it was a way more efficient and high-tech solution. Everyone knows New York has fire trucks. Nice to know there's water trucks, too.
I love using Google to cook, particularly in summer. Not just because you can search the recipe for Alache Soup (above) but also because you can buy whatever looks freshest without fear of failure. After I greedily shop one of New York City's many Green Market farmer's markets, I google my bounty online with the word "recipe" added. It's a little like playing a menu slot machine. You pull the virtual lever and see if you get a winner. This is what I call cooking "forwards." Forwards cooking is ingredient focused.
But Google hasn't killed off cookbooks for me. I'm not the only one. The destination cookbook store, Kitchen Arts & Letters on Lexington Avenue, continues to thrive after 35 years in business (read a recent New York Times' profile here.) With books you cook "backwards." You pick your menu first, shop second and cook third.
Every summer I pull out favorite cookbooks like Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer (Hyperion, 2003), and Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties! (Clarkson Potter, 2001). Cooking step-by-step with these old friends puts me in a more meditative frame of mind. Juicy, ripe dishes like Ina's oven-roasted fruit or Nigella's watermelon, feta and black olive salad bring back pungent memories of summers past.
Despite a thriving website, Garten has a new book out this fall: Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks (Clarkson Potter, October 23, 2018). No doubt I'll splurge. Her ethos of the very relaxed hostess keeps performance anxiety in check.
Cooking forwards requires creativity, backwards requires intention, but cooking "sideways" (again, my term) is the ultimate in relaxation. All you need is a grill, olive oil, a spatula and a flip arm. Sideways cooking is pretty foolproof. And definitely the summeriest of all.
Construction workers spend their day in al fresco cubicles. It's the ultimate transparency. They text, drink coffee, snack and have lunch just like the rest of us, but somehow these mundane tasks seem amplified outdoors. The snoopy public (me, for example), feels like an audience at the theater or an anthropologist in the urban jungle. I pity the guys eating out of lunch pails on a cement sidewalk, and I want to shout at the rooftop texters, "Don't back up!" I personally will jump through any hoop to get my morning coffee, so I watched with empathy as this nimble worker scaled a long ladder on a sticky summer day holding two large iced coffees and a bulky snack bag. When he reached the top he landed the cups, hoisted himself up and over, and prepared to climb higher to his waiting co-worker. I was so thirsty by the time he was done, I had to go get some myself. In his honor, I drank it outdoors.
This Provincetown summer resident, let's call her Gorgeous, suffers neither fools nor casual photographers gladly. When I tried to flatter her into posing, she looked right past me. Anyone less than Elliott Erwitt, who turns 90 next week, clearly wouldn't do. She seemed to pride herself on the superiority of her fashionable eyewear, her chic mixed fur coat, and her slender frame. I didn't have any treats to offer, but my guess is she wouldn't have taken them anyway. I got down to her level, but she refused to get down to mine. It's not every day you meet the Anna Wintour of Chihuahuas.
When I first went to the Grand Canyon, I thought it would look just like the photos I'd seen all my life. I was stunned to realize they were inadequate. I realized then that some things could only be understood in person. it was impossible to capture and convey the Grand Canyon's magnificence and menace in a tiny two-dimensional frame.
Beach sunsets are pretty much the same thing. A lens can't do them justice. People love to shoot them, but they can't really capture them. The same thing is at play: a vast and colorful sky made small loses its reason for being. Sunset photos look like muzak sounds.
And yet, we try.
Here, an unencumbered girl runs and dances at ocean's edge near a hot pink sinking sun on the Fourth of July on "First Encounter" beach in Eastham, Mass. It struck me as a childhood experience of freedom and beauty and joy that I'd want every child to have, and so I shot it, and now I share it.
One day my sister found a strange bundle on her driveway upon returning home. It lay there in a filthy, crumpled and mysterious heap. She edged around it, in case there was glass or metal inside. Then she parked and walked back slowly, worried about the threat of a trapped or injured animal. The mound was silent, so she came closer. Bending over, she saw the iconic red, white, blue pattern and realized what it was. There had been a violent windstorm, a cyclone almost, and she guessed it tore from someone’s pole and then dropped like a random crab from a bird's beak onto her property. She picked it up and wondered which house, which family might be missing a flag. It was filthy and frayed, which created new problems. What were the laws of display and discard, she wondered. What were the rules of decorum? She canvassed the neighborhood but didn't turn up any empty flagpoles. The easiest thing was to stow it in the garage, so she did. Months went by and she forgot all about it. Then the Fourth of July approached. The dirty flag began to tug at her conscience. She decided to give it a try in her washing machine. Surprisingly, It came out fairly well renewed. Its tears and holes receded in its newfound glory. It deserved a second chance. She hung it up in front of her house. It was her flag now.
Whistles are a stop sign for the ears. Traffic cops, lifeguards and referees all use them to control the flow of action. But whistles have a happier side, too. A child with a whistle skips to a self-made joyful rhythm. Whistle-blowing can be fun, but it's not always easy. Sometimes it takes deeper convictions than lungs to blow a metaphorical whistle in corporations and government.
The annual NYC Pride March through Greenwich Village has always been a compelling mix of resistance, protest and celebration. The theme of this year's march (June 20, 2018), "Defiantly Different," protested the Trump and other world government administration's ongoing efforts to strip LGBTQIA protections and rights. Serious signs of protest joined bucketloads of glitter, confetti and rainbows on marchers and their floats.
This large green team from TD Bank walked by tooting their own whistles and handing out free ones to onlookers. I grabbed one as did the people shoulder to shoulder with me. Individually, our tiny shrill exhales were impossible to hear. But all together, we made some damn serious noise.
Let's not talk about the Mets.
Taunting a Mets fan is like kicking a puppy or pinching a baby. You would have to be extra cruel to want to inflict harm on such a sweet and vulnerable group.
But hope springs eternal at the start of every summer, including on a ballfield shoved under the highway and dwarfed by skyscrapers. Here, Little Leaguers hit and run on a summer morning. Painted by imagination, it's a field of dreams.
The endless traffic rumble from the elevated Parkway? Really the roar of the crowds. The gigantic green metal curved highway supports? The magnificent arches of a stadium entrance in the Bronx. The imposing line of glass building windows? Press box and corporate skyboxes, of course.
Diamonds are precious here. You take what you can get.
Block out those stressed and anxious managers, aka parents, shouting tips and tricks. Keep your eye on the ball, wait for your pitch and swing for the stands. This just might be the time it flies over the chain link fence and straight onto the bike path. See-ya!
And the noise fills up the stadium.
Children are not always kind to beloved stuffed animals. New York is even worse.
It's not easy being plush.
In the concrete forest, anything can happen. Teddy bears may be dragged, dropped, hugged, hanged, clenched, clutched and even clawed. They lie on cement sidewalks like pedestrian roadkill. They go to the park in the drooling mouths of giant dogs. They do double duty as toddler backpacks. They are forgotten on subways, buses and taxis. Strange but true: discarded soft animal toys may be bound to the front fenders of sanitation, moving and fire trucks. So Fifty Shades of Grey to me but it's supposed to be...cheerful?
But all is not lost for lost guys. This one went straight to the top. Smile on his face, wind in his fur, arms wide open, he gives new meaning to hugging the road.
Behold, the giant celeriac.
After my local supermarket closed due to rising rent, I began ordering fruit, vegetables, meat and fish from New York area online grocer FreshDirect. Now and then I get a hilarious surprise.
Like this gnarled and tuberous Medusa head. When it was unpacked, it turned out to be the size of a brain and the weight of a puppy. Without a penny in the photograph, you'll have to take my word for it. How else would you know? You're in my exact same situation, stuck between a photograph and a thought.
A glance at the receipt showed it weighed out at $10.49. Would I have bought it in a store? Never. Still, less of a good story than the time my husband's aunt ordered a catalog sweater for her husband and received a mobile home instead. Or when my father mistyped and bought 1,000 shares online instead of the intended 100 (happily for him, the stock went up).
The Internet genies can be capricious. Press the magic button and you never know what might arrive next. Too bad for you, you often keep it. That 70-pound beige wool rug I expected to be ivory? Unrolled, it was too heavy to return. The fluffy featherbed that rose like helium to the heavens? Impossible to stuff back into its original plastic package. And so it goes.
Not everything that comes was meant to be. Just last month, gremlins at Bloomingdale's tossed a free $448 silk color-block dress by Tory Burch into my box of promised bed linens. I'd won a lottery I hadn't even entered. It took maximum effort and ethics to return it. I was so flattered by the size 4.
One thing I know for sure. Magnificent root vegetables should not be eaten quickly. Repurposed as art, my celeriac was quite the steal. I put it on a marble pedestal and for a few days had an organic Giuseppe Arcimboldo (Italian Renaissance painter of vegetable-headed dignitaries), or bust by Philip Haas (contemporary American sculptural interpreter of Arcimboldo). My kitchen glimmered with the transformation.
And then I chopped it into soup.
Summer travel is so cumbersome. I'd like to fly around the world—bagless, weightless and on bird wings. Because I can't, airplanes are a necessary evil. But they have their consolations. I do like looking out their windows and the way my head is in the clouds for real. I also love coming in for landings, particularly returning to New York. For once, I'm the master builder. Big city grids align, massive buildings shrink, and noisy traffic melts away. Here, the Throgs Neck Bridge by Othmar Hermann Amman gets the toy-size treatment as I come into LaGuardia one afternoon. For a moment, I had my wings.
Urban Irony #353: you can shop for growing things while underground yourself. With the onset of Memorial Day weekend, my spring flower craving deepens. The subway florist Botany Bar, buried down in the Turnstyle Underground Market at Columbus Circle, serves up singular orchid "spritzers" on a silver platter. The whimsical shop also concocts air plant "shots," succulent "flights," and a "six-pack" sampler "for your next BYOP event."
I don't just like to BYOP, I also love to seasonally BYOB. Since I can't plant violets on Memorial Day (I've got a park, but no backyard), I drink them. A fragrant bottle of Creme de Violette inspires botanical violet gimlets and brings flower power to my apartment while green thumbs are out in their backyard tilling soil.
I may not have a bed of dirt to run my fingers through, but I can work with metaphors. Here's another: You don't have to have a backyard patio to make your life a garden party.
I like to say I summer on the island...of Manhattan. The central city's pace and congestion make it easy to forget there's soothing water views on all sides. Every now and then, its true island nature reasserts itself. This almost mystical fog rolled into Times Square one early evening, haunting all the favorite haunts. It wrapped itself around tall buildings and spilled across wide avenues, dulling the city's brightest signs and blocks. Suddenly we were more like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco. The velvet coastal softness rarely makes it way so far inland and came as a surprise.
An open hydrant belches water into rippling rivers down the street. Kids at play? No, men at work. A wrench on top suggests a plan. It's not the only one. All over New York City, something is being built up, torn down, drilled, filled, hammered, repaired and repainted. Flocks of neon safety vests build orange mesh nests marked by yellow caution tape. Drills whine like angry insects. Big clouds of dust explode like pollen. Worker ants move earth. At the end of my street, I see a four-ton magic trick: a massive truck floating in the air because all its wheels are jacked to stabilize a rooftop crane. Around the corner, six sunken men work inside an opened sidewalk. At a nearby bus stop, a digital sign bares computer circuitry to the world. The electrician tinkers and walks back to his truck, his work-in-progress left untended. Hidden infrastructure hums all around us. Here's a chance to peer inside. Who knew that time and use and winter cold could break us down so much? Luckily, we're on the mend.
Wine in a can sounds at first like a punch line. My inner grape snob wanted to giggle and point when I stumbled across this bucket of chardonnay, rosé and Bordeaux-style red blend in cheerful aluminum containers at a beautifully curated wine shop in Clinton Corners, New York. Hal, the trustworthy proprietor of Harker House Wine & Spirits, assured me the display was serious business. So I thought, "Why not?" and bought some. The enjoyable Bridge Lane line (above) from small producer Lieb-Cellars in Long Island comes unapologetically in an $8 can equal to half a bottle. Poured in a glass, you can't taste the difference. First craft beers, now craft wines, in light, portable containers with trendy type and graphic design. After trying it, I think wine in a can is set to become a thing by summer. But please, no straws.
Who doesn't love blue? The color of trust, the color of mood, the theme of a favorite Joni Mitchell song. A scientifically proven boost for creativity. Blue is also the color that brings the Internet to its knees. How? You can do a lot of amazing things online, but one thing you can't ever do is International Klein Blue (IKB). That "pure energy" ultramarine color, invented by the French artist Yves Klein in 1960, requires a matte synthetic resin binder to preserve and promote the color's intensity. I amped the blue in this graphic shot of red tree buds, but I still couldn't photoshop my way to IKB. It's material. It's texture. It's layered. Like nature, IKB doesn't live online. The other day I counted sixteen people near me in a subway car. All of them were glued or tethered to their phones. I hope they get a chance to walk outside unplugged.
Photos of people taking photos are so delightfully meta. But not everyone feels that way. Here, I had to shoot quickly and move on before security could approach. My sidewalk lens was a random element in the otherwise tightly controlled chaos of the star-making machine. The event was the Manhattan premiere of the new hit movie, "A Quiet Place" (nationwide April 6, 2018) and the see-through street tent with red carpet was erected to create and control visuals of stars like John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. The inside group performed their roles with intensity. Strong men and steel barricades walled off media and stars. Photographers scurried around like they were covering breaking news (though they were actually shooting portraits in front of a logo wall for sites like celebmafia.com and snowceleb.com). Interviewers got themselves camera-ready in well-oiled motions. Not a hair was out of place. It was all very serious business. The movie made $50 million on opening weekend.
I love blank space. To me, it speaks of luxury and potential rather than the absence of things. But is it possible that inside every minimalist there's a hidden maximalist? The trendy gallery wall (above) at the special exhibition, "Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography," certainly called to mine.
The Joe Baio Collection was one of three special collections (also "A Time for Reflection" curated by Elton John and "All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party" curated by Michelle Dunn Marsh) at The Photography Show presented by Aipad (April 5-8) held annually at Pier 94 in New York City. The premiere photo show featured fine art galleries, book dealers, publishers and photography organizations from all over the world in mostly spare and chic grey booths.
Joe Baio, however, opted to create the feeling of a luxe Manhattan townhouse inside the vast pier space. The collectors brought in large oriental rugs, plush sofas, and antique tables and painted display walls in dense red, cobalt and light blue hues. More than 200 photos of children and adolescents ranging from the 1850s to the present were hung in intricate and beautifully executed arrangements.
Passionate maximalism ruled. People came, sat and stayed. Here, the fine art of hanging lead to the even finer art of hanging out.