Archive for March, 2009

How To Get A Street Mime To Break His Frieze or What Cheered Me Up Last Friday

Despite the gorgeous weather in New York City last Friday, I was mildly melancholy until these few things caught my eye, turning my blue skies a bit less blue.

Budding Hyacinth in our building's park. The first spring blooms spotted! Hyacinths of the season in our building’s garden.
So full of hope!
How do they know it’s time? We had warmer days a few weeks ago…

Royal haircut at Parkchester subway station. Royal haircut on the platform of the Parkchester subway station,
just three days fresh.

Copper Suit street mime at Union Square Farmer's Market. The old street-mime-will-move-for-money character posing in Union Square. I never stop for the living statues. But Friday I did. I watched the people watching him, who I dubbed, The Copper Mime. A woman reached behind him, giving his right back pocket a hearty squeeze. Then announced, “He’s a real man!” Her friend called out, “Wear a G-String next time.” The Copper Mime did not break his frieze. The young guys on the right were contorting their faces to get him to do something. Nothing. One guy did a frenetic walking on hot coals in barefeet dance. The Copper Mime shifted his stance and turned away from them, breaking his frieze. They were ecstatic, shouting “We won! We won!” They hadn’t paid him a cent.

A New Leaf, Bronx greenhouse at Union Square Farmer's Market. Always happy to see the plant offerings from New Leaf at Union Square Farmer’s Market. Their Bronx greenhouse, in the Longwood nabe, is huge. They’re always very friendly, if not so specific about some of the plant species. Last summer, I went to the greenhouse for jasmine, but I think I brought home gardenia. New Leaf is part of a community initiative to offer former homeless substance abusers an opportunity to work in a non-traditional environment. Most of the flowers in front of our coop building were bought from them.

Chemistry Lab Safety GogglesThe Bronx Trivia Challenge at FromTheBronx cheered me up. I answered correctly to their question on Day 2! Every morning until Sunday April 5th, they’re posting a trivia question about the Bronx. Here’s the question that’s put me in the running for the prize: Which Bronx school has produced more Nobel Prize-winning scientists (7) than any other secondary education institution in the world? Think you know? Check the answer here.

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March 30, 2009 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Sexy Slippers

Slipper Orchid, {Paphiopedilum}, at the NY Botanical Garden Gift Shop.

Sexy Slipper Orchid, {Paphiopedilum}, at the NY Botanical Garden Gift Shop.

Let’s be honest.
Orchids are unabashedly sexy.
Glistening, hairy, succulent, juicy, spotty, warty…it is all there.

Slipper Orchids are my favorite.
Paphos, is a city on the Aegean Island of Cyprus and the mythical birthplace of, who else? Aphrodite.
The Goddess of Love herself. A temple was built there in her honor for all manner of celebrations.
Pedilon is Greek for sandal.
“The Orchid Show” book explains it thusly:
“The legend is that Aphrodite lost her golden slipper. When a mortal found it and tried to touch it, the slipper was transformed into an exquisite golden orchid.”
{So much better than Cinderella.}

The slipper, of course, is not what I see at first.
My attraction is entirely subliminal.
One woman standing next to me kept reaching up to caress the proboscis like petal — the labellum.
You’re not supposed to touch.
I laughed and she said, “I just can’t stop.”

When I got home and looked at my photos on the computer screen — all big and enlarged — I gasped, Is that what I saw?
A veiny, hairy, deep burgundy pouch, umm, slipper…right there on the shelf of the NY Botanical Garden Gift Shop.
And it was brimming with water.
I know because, I had touched the slipper pouch. I could not resist.

I was tempted to bring one home with me.
I was further tempted when I learned that they are perfectly suited in the hands of an orchid newbie and that the flowers can last two to three months…
Ahh, but the price tag gave me pause.
85 bucks.
We’re in the midst of economic turmoil for crying out loud…
Subway & bus fares are going up to $2.50.
Just walk away… just walk away.

Paphiopedilum {paf-ee-oh-PED-i-lum} at the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show through April 12th. Of course, the show features plenty of other orchid varieties, but not as sexy as the Paphs.


NYBG Slipper Orchid in the gift shop.

Marianne's Phrygian Cap?

Slipper Orchids at the NY Botanical Garden Orchid Show.

Slipper Orchids at the NY Botanical Garden Orchid Show.

The slipper likeness is very apparent in the orchid on the left.

The slipper likeness is very apparent in the orchid on the left.

Slipper Orchid at the NY Botanical Garden Orchid Show.

NYBG Slipper Orchid in the gift shop.

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March 26, 2009 at 1:53 am 1 comment

Four Bronx Women

In recent weeks, I have turned my lens and my ears toward a few Bronx women whose talents and community projects have impressed me.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez
Soprano / Student at Celia Cruz High School of Music

Ms. Rodriguez performed Mozart’s “Alleluia” accompanied by the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet earlier this year.  We went to the Ensemble’s January concert and it was really lovely, held in a private home in Riverdale.  The Bronx Arts Ensemble often features young Bronx musicians in their concerts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to expose My Favorite 15 Year Old to chamber music.  And it was — she enjoyed hearing and seeing someone close to her own age. Ms. Rodriguez appeared quite at ease singing to a packed room, which included her school’s principal.  Sitting next to us, a young man wearing a badge that read “Press — Celia Cruz High School” commented to his friend, “She gave me goose bumps.”

Last month, I attended the discussion, “Civil Rights in the Bronx: Past and Present”, as part of The Bronx is Building lecture series presented by the Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University. The panel happened to be an all women line up, with two women from local chapters of the NAACP (which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year) and South Bronx community activist Majora Carter.  I was especially excited to hear Ms. Carter as I’ve followed her story shortly after she was awarded the “genius” prize — a MacArthur fellowship in 2005, for her work in her Hunts Point community.

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts
President / NAACP, Parkchester Branch

From the time it was built in 1938 until the early 1970s, the Parkchester housing complex had no residents of color.  Ms. Roberts noted that it was the National Urban League who sued the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Parkchester’s owner, for their “whites only” policy.  The NAACP Parkchester branch, established in 1974, provided support to families with integration of schools in the area.  Ms. Roberts said further, “All people of color, newly arrived in the United States, have benefited from the NAACP.”

Shirley Fearon
President / NAACP, Williamsbridge Branch

Ms. Fearon recalled her first act of defending civil rights as a young girl in her Williamsbridge neighborhood. She joined her father and other blacks in the community in picketing the five and dime store on 216th Street.  It was 1959 and no black women were working there. The moderator Professor Mark Naison, noted this with particular interest commenting that demonstrations and picketing by black Bronxites is not readily known.  Today the Williamsbridge chapter brings programs into local schools that teach students about Black History.

Majora Carter
President and CEO / Marjora Carter Group

Ms. Carter started off by commenting on the name of the lecture series, “The Bronx is Building”.  She said, “As someone who lived in the South Bronx when it was burning, I am so happy to see the word ‘building’ in reference to the Bronx.” Ms. Carter has built bold strategies to improve the quality of life in her Hunts Point, South Bronx community, where residents are saddled with high asthma rates and live side by side with the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center which brings semi trucks into the area on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, Ms. Carter placed herself front and center in opposition of the city’s plan to bring a waste treatment plant into her community’s back yard.  Her efforts have brought “green” jobs into the South Bronx and she secured a $1.25M federal grant to design a South Bronx Greenway along the Bronx River for parks and recreational use.  Ms. Carter, said during the lecture that “Environmental justice is the civil rights of the 20th century.”

If you have not seen it already, Ms. Carter’s talk at the TED conference (Technology , Entertainment, Design) is brilliant.  She is passionate, she is bold and she is honest. And she puts a challenge directly to Vice President Gore that is so daring but necessary.

Onward and Upward!

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March 24, 2009 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Podcast: Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian (Part 1)

Early last summer, two high school seniors told me that Professor Lloyd Ultan made them cry. These were not wimpy looking guys, but they clearly wore their feelings closer to the surface than I would have guessed. They had interviewed Professor Ultan for their film project about the Bronx River. One of guys said, “It’s the way he tells a story.  He makes tears come to your eyes. I was holding the camera and wiping my eyes…He’s the man!”  They both nodded their heads in agreement.

A couple of months later, I literally bumped into Prof. Ultan in the hallway of the Bronx Historical Society and we started talking.  I asked him if he could help me fill in some gaps in my understanding of Bronx history in an interview for my blog. He graciously agreed. I realized the moment he started talking that a written interview would not capture him best. It is certainly true that he is a gifted story teller.  His knowledge of Bronx history seems endless and his eagerness to share what knows is equally tireless. Plus he’s entirely engaging. I would have enjoyed history in school if I’d had him as my history teacher.

I am happy to share with you Part 1 of my interview with Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian. I’ve divided the interview into segments. This is the first half hour segment. I will post the remaining interview in half hour segments over the next month.


Click the link below to download the podcast as an mp3.:
Bronx Bohemian Podcast Interview 1, Part 1

Show Notes

00:00 = Bronx Bohemian walking along Bainbridge Ave en route to interview

Professor Lloyd Ultan in the Bronx Historical Society Library.01:59 = Professor Lloyd Ultan at the Bronx Historical Society

02:26 = 209th Street has disappeared

03:06 = Prof. Ultan on how he became the borough historian and what his duties are

04:43 = Prof. Ultan is a Bronxite to his core!

05:56 = The Grand Concourse, inspired by the grand boulevard the Champs-Élysées in Paris, designed by Louis Risse

08:18 = The Grand Concourse was a symbol of success

10:37 = Thomas Jefferson Descendants are Neighbors on the Grand Concourse. NY Times Article: An American Family

11:20 = What is “The Bronx”? A county? What is a borough exactly?

12:03 = Role of the Borough President

13:05 = How the Bronx got its name

17:07 = The court case about the “The” in the Bronx

18:53 = Jonas Bronck: Who was he and why did he come here?

29:51 = Outro

30:25 = End of Part 1


Music: “Que Pena / Tanto Faz featuring Tamy (scmixer regrooved mix)” by s.c.mixer

Tech: Colin Turner, Chief urbologist, urbTek, LLC

Professor Lloyd Ultan with book.  (President Carter's trip to the South Bronx).Books by Professor Lloyd Ultan

“The Bronx In The Innocent Years, 1890 – 1925”, with Gary Hermalyn (1991 2nd ed).
“The Beautiful Bronx, 1920-1950” , (1979).
“The Bronx: It was Only Yesterday, 1935 – 1965”,  with Gary Hermalyn (1992).
“Bronx Accent: A Literary And Pictorial History of the Borough”, with Barbara Unger (2000).
“The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx”,  to be released this year.  It is the first single volume on the history of the Bronx since 1912.

Additional Resources for topics discussed in this podcast:

Intersections The Grand Concourse beyond 100

New York Public Library: The Bronx on the Web

The Grand Concourse and Boulevard at 100 Walking Tours led by Lloyd Ultan
Part 1 – The Lower Concourse — Saturday, May 9th at 1:00pm
Meeting Place: 161st Street on the steps of The Bronx County Courthouse Building

Part 2 – The Upper Concourse — Saturday, May 30th at 1:00pm
Meeting Place: Loew’s Paradise Theater, 188th Street and the Grand Concourse

Reservations must be made with the Bronx County Historical Society 718.881-8900
$15 for non-members of the historical society, $10 for members

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March 17, 2009 at 11:58 pm 3 comments

The Bronx: No Comments

Fallen Verse. Wood Avenue near Thieriot Avenue.
Pushpins on tree trunk.  Thieriot Avenue between Wood and Archer.
Tree verse. Thieriot Avenue between Wood and Archer.
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March 14, 2009 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

Walls So Thick, So Hairy, but Ghosts Still Get In

The Valentine-Varian House, a solid brick farmhouse on Bainbridge Avenue, has walls 21″ thick.
Walls insulated with a homemade recipe of horse hair, pig hair and mud.

Walls so thick and so sturdy, that when it was dragged from the corner of Bainbridge and Van Cortlandt catercorner across the street, then turned 90 degrees to its current location, nothing was used to brace it nor to belt it.

Hairy insulation in the walls of the Valentine-Varian House.

Valentine-Varian House hairy insulation.

Walls so thick and so well insulated, that the day we visited I had to take my coat off to keep from passing out.
And I was further comforted to learn that the heat wasn’t even on.

Tour guide and Caretaker Marcus Hickman lead us to the cut-a-way in the wall exposing the home’s layers of hairy insulation.

What else is so special about the Valentine-Varian House?
It survived the American Revolution for one.
Built in 1758, it is the second oldest home in the Bronx. (The oldest is the Van Cortlandt House built in 1748).
And it has all its original wood plank flooring and nails (probably forged right there in the blacksmith shop).
It is the Museum of Bronx History.
Isaac Valentine, the original owner, was a blacksmith and owned the surrounding 300 acres with slaves to help run the farm.
The blacksmith shop is gone, but the original door leading to it from the house is still in place.
Valentine was a neutralist during the Revolution and the house was occupied by American, British and Hessian soldiers.
The road running in front of the house was a major thoroughfare (Van Cortlandt Avenue) which led to Boston.

The Varian family bought the farm in 1792 and kept it in their family until 1905.
Issac Varian, the 63rd mayor of New York City, was a grandson of the original Varian owner.

The house is not furnished (they are working to change this) and the current featured exhibit is a tribute to Yankee Stadium.

As The Museum of Bronx History, the permanent collection has photographs and objects of the Bronx early years. We’d come at the tail end of the Black History Month exhibit on the history of Bronxites of African descent. Many of the early Bronx landowning families had black slaves working on their estates (the first enlaved blacks arriving to the Bronx were from Barbados) and African Burial sites were situated nearby. The exhibit displayed historical maps to show the location of those burial sites–long since built over with no marker to indicate their existence.
I believe that exhibit should be absorbed into the museum’s permanent collection. Not much light is given to the early history of blacks in the Bronx.

The Valentine-Varian house itself has a feeling that evokes a different period. It actually has a lot of rooms on the ground floor. It was not considered a luxurious residence, in comparison to the Van Cortlandt House for example, but it is clearly the size home of a farmer with some means.

Marcus, as caretaker, has the Valentine-Varian House as his home address. He reminded us that historic homes often have a full time resident. I do remember hearing a baby crying from the upper floors of the Bartow-Pell Mansion the day we visited.
And yes, Marcus did confirm the house has ghosts.
“Friendly, ones. If you live in an historic home, you have to respect that they’ll be here.

Afterward, we went around the back of the house to the Williamsbridge Oval. What a great park! With tennis courts, soccer fields, a running track and playgrounds. And all along I thought it was a fenced in reservoir.

Williamsbridge Oval Park.

Williamsbridge Oval Park.

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March 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm 3 comments

Wish You Were Here…Postcards From The Bronx

Boating in Pelham Bay.

Boating in Pelham Bay. (I've done this.)

Lover's Lane in Bronx Park vintage postcard.

Lover's Lane in Bronx Park. It reads: Dear Eva! Thank you very much for the postal. Best Regards from Roger Olsen (I believe it says "postal", and not "pastel", which would be more romantic.)

New York Botanical Garden vintage postcard.

New York Botanical Garden. The women at left are walking along what is now called "Ladies' Border". The NYBG describes this area as "Southern beauties thriving in the North." And that's on the garden website.

Poe Cottage and Park.

Poe Cottage and Park. Former home of Edgar Allan Poe.

Van Cortlandt House.

Van Cortlandt House, which still stands in Van Cortlandt Park.

Orchard Beach Pavillion.

Orchard Beach Pavilion.

Camping at Pelham Bay Park.

Pelham Bay Park Campsite. It reads: Am camping here for a few weeks having the time of my life. Lou

This last one is my personal favorite!

All postcards on view in the entrance hallway of The Valentine-Varian House in The Bronx.

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March 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm 1 comment

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