The Arts Move On Up


On this day in 1870 the Metropolitan was incorporated, opening to the public for the first time in the Dodworth Building at 681 Fifth Avenue.

On March 30, 1880, after a brief move to the Douglas Mansion at 128 West 14th Street, the Museum opened to the public at its current site on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. The architects Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed the initial Ruskinian Gothic structure, the west facade of which is still visible in the Robert Lehman Wing. The building has since expanded greatly, and the various additions—built as early as 1888—now completely surround the original structure. Metropolitan Museum of Art



Look What You’ve Done To Your/ My Obelisk!


Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is taking a decidedly unfavorable view towards the Big Apple concerning a Central Park monument. Cleopatra’s Needle, that Pharaonic obelisk of ancient times, is assuming the disrepair of present days; in fact, it’s going Ratso Rizzo on us.

While restorative work is, more or less, occurring all over town, the current series of restorations have apparently failed to reach the obelisk. This has the Council mad as hell and they’re threatening to take Cleopatra’s Needle back to the Land of the Pharaohs.

Mayor (and, sometimes, Pharaoh in his own right) Michael Bloomberg received this warm, ultimatum-charged message from Supreme Council Secretary General Zahi Hawass:

“I’m glad that this monument has become such an integral part of New York City, but I am dismayed at the lack of care and attention that it has been given,” Hawass wrote. “Recent photographs that I have received show the severe damage that has been done to the obelisk, particularly to the hieroglyphic text, which in places has been completely worn away. I have a duty to protect all Egyptian monuments whether they are inside or outside of Egypt. If the Central Park Conservancy and the City of New York cannot properly care for this obelisk, I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.”

The 71-foot (21 meter), 224-ton obelisk, one of a pair (the other is now in London), was built to honor Pharaoh Thutmose III (circa 1500 B.C.) and stood in the ancient city of Heliopolis in Egypt. In 18 A.D., the Romans took possession of the obelisks and placed them at the entrance to the Ceasarium in Alexandria. There they stood until 1869 when the Khedive of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal and to cultivate mutual trade between both countries, presented the United States with the Central Park obelisk; it was unveiled in the park in 1881 and was soon dubbed “Cleopatra’s Needle.”

Now I wonder if the French are having any misgivings about the Statue of Liberty. Be that as it may, I say to any country that is threatening to take their stuff back: You’re paying for your own return shipping and handling!

Source: Live Science

Note:  This post was originally published in 2011, when Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron ego. Now that that nation has replaced tyranny with anarchy, I suspect that they’ve lost interest in the like of neglected obelisks in Central Park. In fact, Cleopatra’s Needle is now looking quite well for its age. Egypt, on the other hand, er…not quite so well.

Sunday in the Park with George III


It’s no secret that Central Park is rife with many fascinating and historic secrets. However, a newly divulged tidbit from that verdant green went beyond the fascinating and historic towards the stratum of the explosive.

From the 1860s until today, Central Park had an eighteenth century cannon on public display…fully loaded with ball and 800 grams of gunpowder! In short, all dressed up and ready to go kaboom!

The Revolutionary War-era gun was one of two being stored at the park’s Ramble shed near the 79th Street transverse. Workers were cleaning the cannon (who were twice fortunate if they weren’t smoking at the time) when they soon discovered that it was still loaded. Naturally, they quickly called the police who arrived along with, I’d presume, an armada of other emergency personnel in search of a time-killer hangout.

In fairness, it never occurred to anyone that the cannon, which is said to be at least 233 years old, would still pose a threat. The field piece was already more than 90 years old when it was donated to the park, apparently by someone who’d salvaged it from a sunken British frigate in the East River. It was put on display at the park, and capped with concrete. No one even considered the possibility that British sailors had loaded and sealed it before their ship went down.

For John Moore, who is working on a book called “The Secrets of Central Park,” this is a new one.

“This is an amazing surprise. It was there for so many years and people were sitting on it when it was a loaded cannon,” Moore said.

Heavens to Murgatroyd! He’s right. Before being moved to the shelter of the Conservancy in 1996, the cannon sat outside amongst unsuspecting park-goers. Many would lounge about/ upon the apparently dormant artillery piece (this blogger being one of them) basking in the fresh air. I remember those moments with fondness, casually perched atop that old relic while smoking a cigarette, totally unaware of how close I may have come to getting a bang out of it.

CBS New York

A Taste Of Venice?

If you’re unable to get to Venice, Italy you just might be able to get to Central Park, New York for that gondola ride you were dreaming of during your more romantic moments. At thirty dollars for a half hour, the Venetian Gondola Tour will give you a taste of liquescent amour while you sail the lazily lapping waters of the park’s speciously spacious lake.

Even though there are no mysterious and intricate canals to be found in Central Park, you could always conjure one up in your imagination while the gondolier accompanies your whispered sweet nothings with serenades and other tunes.

The Times has an essay from gondolier Liam Daniel Pierce [that sounds Italian], primarily accounting some of the more amusing tales of his sails, that includes forty-plus proposals he’s seen since rowing the boat, not one with an awkward rejection and silent cruise back to shore.  The Gothamist

I’m constantly amazed at the hipster playground New York City has become, practically overnight, while real New Yorkers strive on in bemused amusement. Our romantic cruises are usually experienced on the Staten Island Ferry.

The Philharmonic in The Park

The New York Philharmonic, led by Music Director Alan Gilbert, kicked off a local tour — of New York City’s five boroughs — with a rousing Tchaikovsky‘s Fourth in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on July 11, 2012. Join the virtual tour:

The Philharmonic sounded lovely, even though the Fourth’s four movements seemed muffled and vague within the tangled up in blue of NYC’s heat and humidity: the andante sostenuto, andantino, scherzo and finale overwhelmed by the heaviness in the evening air.

Then again, it probably appeared that way from where my wife and I were sitting: faraway, beneath the drooping and dribbling branches of a mischievously senile oak tree.

A Summer Evening At The Bandshell

The 107th season of Naumburg Orchestral Concerts from the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park featured The Knights on July 10, 2012.

The Knights perform Wagner’s ‘Siegfried Idyll.’

The Knights with cello soloist Julia MacLaine perform Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129.

Violinists Johnny Gandelsman (front) and Christina Courtin.

We enjoyed a cool time of it, in spite of the heat and humidity, at Central Park’s Naumburg Bandshell last night. The wine flowed freely, the cheese cut neatly, as summer gently if persistently roiled through the air. A merry time was had by one and all…including the mosquitoes.

Source: WQXR (listen to a recording of the program)

Petit Between The Towers

On the morning of August 7, 1974, the newly constructed World Trade Center towered high and mighty…an object of scorn and ridicule. The “packaging that the Empire State Building was delivered in” was the favorite joke of many critics when referring to the structure; dismissed as a building devoid of any aesthetic form, shamelessly serving only a capitalistic function.

New York City was in the midst of the world’s first oil crisis and about to descend into its worst financial recession; this added fuel to the derision and contempt from a public who saw the World Trade Center as a symbol of corporate greed and excess and as a mockery to its troubled situation.

On this particular summer morning, however, the World Trade Center was attracting an attention that wasn’t scornful nor derisive. Crowds of people (first numbering in the tens, then hundreds and eventually thousands) were gazing upward to view a small figure high above them walking and dancing along a cable suspended between the North and South Towers. His carefree, frolicsome, death-defying moves along the cable held everyone far below captivated. The small figure was Philippe Petit, a 24-year-old French street performer now high-wire walker; his perilous moment was in the planning for six years.

In 1968, the then 18-year old Petit was suffering from a toothache and was impatiently leafing through a magazine while in the waiting room of his dentist. He came across a article that featured a story on the construction of the World Trade Center complex, the tallest and largest in the world. The technical design of the construction wasn’t what interested Petit but rather the sheer height of the project’s two main buildings: the Twin Towers (Towers One and Two) as they came to be known. Petit instantly vowed to himself that one day he would walk between these towers and promptly embarked on his dream. Pretending to sneeze to muffle the sound, he tore the article out of the magazine and swiftly left the office, his toothache forgotten. The Towers “called me,” Petit would claim over and over again, “I didn’t choose them…it was a calling of the romantic type.”

As the structures rose, so did Petit’s skill on the high-wire, arduously and tirelessly he practiced and trained; and when the World Trade Center reached completion, he had mastered the high-wire along with his study of every aspect of the Twin Towers. In January 1974, he arrived in New York City with a group of friends and colleagues and immediately set about implementing his hair-raising designs.

After months of scouting the Towers, posing as a journalist to interview Guy Tozzoli, head of the Port Authority (ubiquitous owner of the World Trade Center), Petit and two of his associates gained access to the top of the South Tower, while another group made its way up the North Tower, with their concealed equipment: a disassembled balancing pole, rigging wire, 250- feet of one-inch braided steel cable and a bow and arrow.

They worked through the entire night, stretching the cable across the 130-foot space separating the Towers, and by 7 a.m. Petit was ready for the soon-to-be legendary walk: the moment Petit had desired for the past six years had finally arrived.

One of the first people to report on Petit as he effortlessly made his way toward the center of the wire was Sgt. Charles Daniels of the Port Authority Police who was dispatched to the scene in an effort to stop him. “I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’–because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker.’ Daniels stated that upon seeing him and other officers he “laughed” and started to go into a “dancing routine.” When he finally reached the North Tower, his walk complete, Petit suddenly turned and happily waltzed the other way. For nearly 45 minutes this spectacle continued while everyone watched spellbound and thrilled; the unknown street performer had made himself famous throughout the world.

Petit was arrested but, due to overwhelming praise and support from the public, all charges against him were dropped. He was instead “sentenced” to perform his high-wire act before a group of children in Central Park. The Port Authority was overjoyed that the young Frenchman had also cast the World Trade Center into a rarely seen favorable light. They had Petit sign his name into a steel beam overlooking the space where he performed his incredible stunt and presented him with a lifetime pass to the South Tower’s observation deck.

Philippe Petit had also accomplished an even more astounding feat: he had single-handedly made “two of the tallest, largest and most imposing structures in the world seem suddenly endearing and friendly.” And that’s how most New Yorkers (including me), and many people in the civilized world, would see the World Trade Center until the morning of its destruction by high-flying psychotics.

Source: To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers