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Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

The Disappearing Face of New York

April 8, 2014 | by

optimo-cigars

What was once Optimo Cigars is now a boutique cupcake shoppe. Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

Smithsonian Magazine, Beautiful Decay, and others have recently featured photographs from Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, published in 2008 by James and Karla Murray. In 2004, the couple “began a project to capture New York City’s iconic storefronts—the city’s unique, mom-and-pop restaurants, shops, and bars—before they disappeared.” Now, ten years later, they’ve revisited the storefronts to find that most of shops have, in fact, disappeared:

lenox-lounge

Many traditional “mom and pop” neighborhood storefronts that had prevailed in some cases for over a century were disappearing in the face of modernization and conformity, and the once unique appearance and character of New York's colorful streets were suffering in the process … We noticed very early on while photographing the original stores that if the owner did not own the entire building, their business was already in jeopardy of closing. The owners themselves frequently acknowledged that they were at the mercy of their landlords and the ever-increasing rents they charged … When the original 2nd Avenue Deli location in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent was increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month, and a Chase Bank took over the space, we knew the contrast of before and after was severe.

More of the photos can be seen on James and Karla’s Facebook page. They’re especially sobering given the sad fate of Rizzoli Bookstore, which will shutter its beautiful, historic Fifty-Seventh Street location on April 11.

 

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Some Realms I Owned: Elizabeth Bishop in Manhattan

June 18, 2013 | by

Elizabeth Bishop, "Interior with Extension Cord." Undated; watercolor, gouache, and ink.

Elizabeth Bishop, "Interior with Extension Cord." Undated; watercolor, gouache, and ink.

There are thirteen addresses in Manhattan where devout readers can stalk Elizabeth Bishop’s ghost: seven hotels and six apartments. Because no historical plaques have been hung to mark them, vigilance is crucial. You could pass by any one of them without realizing one of America’s greatest poets once called it home, or some version thereof. If these locales are not enough, peruse the writer’s several thousand letters for additional jaunts. At the entrance to the public library’s main reading room, for example, you can sit on the bench where, in 1936, Elizabeth arranged to meet Marianne Moore. The city is dirty enough that a small remnant of the writer, if only the dust on her soles, might linger there.

The compulsion to visit Elizabeth’s former residences is the same one that drives Shakespeare lovers to Stratford-upon-Avon and Thoreau converts to Walden Pond. Oscar Wilde’s lipstick-covered tomb proves such journeys are never simply educational field trips, but affairs of deep passion. Accordingly, I begin a pilgrimage: I will visit all these addresses. And so I set out on a cool spring day for 16 Charles Street, the poet’s first Manhattan residence, where she spent the fall of 1934. Bishop was then twenty-three years old, a would-be writer whose mind was as much a boxing ring for hope and trepidation as my own. She was sick that New Year’s Eve and spent the night on the floor, perusing a map of the North Atlantic. Doped up on “adrenalin and cough syrup,” she wrote:

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

As I examine the wide building where Bishop once lived, my own questions sound comparatively banal: Was this the same brass doorknob she turned every day? When Marie Antoinette’s bedchamber was renovated in the twentieth century, several of the queen’s dress pins were found wedged between the floorboards. I scrutinize the red-brick facade for a similar detail that might bring the poet into focus, but whatever she may have left behind cannot be seen through these stoic windows, all gridded neatly in white, each revealing less than the last. Read More »

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Old New York

December 18, 2012 | by

The Sixth Avenue El train has just cleared the steep bend off Third Street. It is now picking up speed and will, any moment now, bolt uptown. Next stop, Eighth Street, then past Jefferson Market, Fourteenth Street, then all the way north till it reaches Fifty-Ninth Street. But perhaps it is not racing up at all but grinding to a stop after that notoriously difficult curve before Bleeker Street. It’s hard to tell. The blue lettering on the train’s marker light must spell something, but it’s hard to decipher this as well. Under the el two vehicles seem to know where they’re headed. To the left of the train, on the corner of Sixth and Cornelia, a scrawny, wedge-shaped, twelve-story high-rise strains to look taller than it is. Its numberless lighted windows suggest that, despite darkness everywhere, this is by no means nighttime, but evening, maybe early evening. The building’s residents are probably preparing dinner, some just walking in after work, others listening to the radio, the children are doing homework.

This is 1922, and this is Sloan country. Read More »

2 COMMENTS

Reading in New York; Reading of London

April 20, 2012 | by

My apartment is infested with evil roommates and sad vibes. Being unemployed, I have no refuge. But I refuse to be depressed! Mornings I pack a small bag of books, take to the streets, wander around. But one can only sit on so many benches. Am curious about comfy food places where the management smiles kindly (or just not unkindly) on quiet, unassuming customers who occupy space for many hours, ordering only coffee, or perhaps (eventually) some delicious pie ... Suggestions?

Sincerely, Ex Libris

(oh and Manhattan only please)

Dear Ex, We have one of the world’s great reading rooms–at least for now–at the Forty-second Street Library. Having spent years in tiny, often overcrowded apartments, I promise that you will sit longer and read more there than in any café. If you get hungry, there’s a Pret à Manger across the street, not to mention the restaurant and sandwich kiosks in Bryant Park. Enjoy it while you can. Other good reading places—on weekdays especially—are the side room at Cafe Pick Me Up on Avenue A, the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights, and Tarralucci e Vino, either the one off Union Square or the one on East Tenth Street. For weekends, I highly recommend the bar at Vandaag on Second Avenue. No pies, but excellent coffee, strupwafels, and poached eggs.

Read More »

13 COMMENTS

Ghost River

January 23, 2012 | by

Not long ago, I read an article about archaeologists in Greenland who discovered that plants growing above an ancient Norse ruin possessed slightly different chemistry from plants growing nearby. I was taken with the idea that the energy of a forgotten structure, invisible and buried deep underground, may percolate upwards to leave subtle impressions on the surface. It was this that came to mind recently when I discovered Minetta Brook, a hidden stream that flows beneath the streets of Greenwich Village.

I had learned of the stream from an 1865 map of Manhattan, drawn by an engineer named Egbert Ludovicus Viele, which showed marshlands, rivers, and streams crisscrossing the island beneath an overlay of the city’s grid. The map, which is still used today by engineers, showed Minetta Brook beginning as two branches, one originating from a spring at Fifth Avenue and Twentieth Street, the other from a marsh near Sixth Avenue and Seventeenth Street. They met near Twelfth Street, then flowed south down Fifth Avenue, through Washington Square Park, before emptying into the Hudson River at Charlton Street. According to the historian John Fiske, the brook, in the seventeenth century, had been a favorite fishing spot for the Lenape and the Dutch: “a clear swift brook abounding in trout.” By the early nineteenth century, it had disappeared from maps, buried beneath the streets, forgotten. Or perhaps not. There were stories floating around about basements of older buildings in the Village with grates in the floor, through which you could see the stream flowing. I wanted to listen to the stream, smell the water, dip my fingers in, maybe even take a small sip. Wouldn’t that be something. And so I decided to retrace the path of Minetta Brook, going door-to-door, asking everyone I met about the stream that flowed beneath their building. Read More »

25 COMMENTS

The Laundry Room

December 12, 2011 | by

The streets are covered in snow. The wind whips harshly, a blizzard’s aftermath, and in the laundry room in the basement of my childhood building, I find a neighbor pulling clothes out of the dryer.

She is distracted when I say hello, stares at me unrecognizingly. But then something clicks and a shaky stream of lucidity pours fourth. She asks after my mother, my wife, the kid. And I ask after Gary, my old babysitter, who used to take me downstairs to their apartment on the C line.

The building has four lines of apartments—A, B, C, and D—and two separate elevators. The C line, facing east, gets the least light. It shares the landing with the D line, which overlooks the river and gets the most. Through a door, down the service hallway, and through another set of doors, and you are on the A-B landing, where I grew up and now return for the holidays.

In the whole building, these days, there is a slight tension, the old guard and the new. Anyone who has come in during the last decade spent a fortune to be here. The old guard are certainly not have-nots, but they come from a different world. They march with dignified postures in and out of the lobby, nodding to the doormen, almost indignant at what their apartments are worth, the strain of the contradiction playing faintly on their faces. Read More »

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