10 Things to Do During Lunch Break While on Jury Duty in the Bronx

Executive Towers at 165th Street and the Grand Concourse.
Executive Towers at 165th Street & the Grand Concourse. Notable curved balconies and the only circular driveway on the boulevard. It was the last luxury building built on the Concourse in 1963.

The spring before last I was called for jury duty and spent those gorgeous hour and half lunch breaks chatting on my phone in the park across the street from the Courthouse.  What a waste!  If only I’d known then what I know now about that area and The Grand Concourse. I could have taken a short stroll in any one direction to find something of interest.

So here are 10 Things To Do During Your Lunch Break While On Jury Duty at the Bronx County Courthouse:
(To maximize your time “sightseeing” I suggest bringing your lunch. That way, you don’t have to spend precious time waiting for and paying for lunch).

1. Stroll around the Courthouse itself. {built 1931-1935} The statues that flank each staircase are related to the images on the frieze, around the top edge of the courthouse.

Bronx Time Capsule Marker at the Bronx County Building
Bronx Time Capsule Marker at the Bronx County Building

2.  Time Capsule – buried on the courthouse grounds in 1989 — imagine what the Bronx will look like in 2089 when it is opened up.  Fernando Ferrer contributed his cigarette lighter in an effort to stop smoking. I wonder if he misses it/replaced it. What would you put in the Bronx Time Capsule?

3.  Walk in Joyce Kilmer Park:  bring your sneakers and get your heartbeat up by taking an energizing power stroll around the park.  I saw a couple of women doing this in business dress and their sneaks.  As you’re walking, memorize Kilmer’s famous poem:

“Trees”
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

4. The Tree Museum:  brilliant creation by artist Katie Holten who has tagged over 100 trees along the Grand Concourse — each with an accompanying audiocast by Bronxites who live(d) along or near the Concourse speaking their thoughts of the grand boulevard.  Trees in the museum can be identified by a marker on the sidewalk bearing a phone # to call to hear the audiocast. Maps available at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.  The Tree Museum was scheduled to “close” October 12th, but will remain open until January 3rd, 2010.

5. Bronx Museum of the Arts (165th and the GC) It is a great space — modern and open and the zig zag facade follows that of many of the art deco buildings along the Concourse. Check out the current exhibit in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Concourse.

6. Andrew Freedman Home (166th and the GC) — the grand palace of the Grand Concourse, the only building on the boulevard with a lawn, built in 1925 as a retirement home for poor rich folks.

7. Yankee Stadium(s) — you can relax and sit on the benches here at Babe Ruth Plaza, taking in the new stadium and reminiscing on the old, catch yourself between two stadiums. I am no baseball fan but the enormous banners and photos of the players do give you the feeling of walking in a canyon.

8.  Find the Statue of Liberty — on 161st between the Courthouse and Jerome Avenue is a small Statue of Liberty, see if you can spot it. Hint: look on the rooftops.

"Fish House" built in 1936 by Horace Ginsburg. The ultimate example of art deco -- rounded corners, angled windows and the fish mosaic.
"Fish House" the ultimate example of art deco -- rounded corners, angled windows and the fish mosaic.

9.  The Grand Concourse — This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Grand Concourse. It was modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris for all its art deco and art moderne buildings —  the mosaics, the rounded curves, the zig zag facades — the most found on any boulevard in the country. “Fish House” at no. 1150, is the ultimate example — including angled windows, designed to maximize sunlight streaming into the interior.

10.  Bronx Walk of Fame — Follow it from the courthouse going downtown, to where it ends at Hostos Community College on 149th Street. A lot of greats here. My childhood favorites Rita Moreno (“HEY YOU GUYS!”) and Sonia Manzano (aka Maria on Sesame Street) are here. For me, Rita Moreno was famous for Electric Company waaay before Westside Story.

Rita Moreno's marker on the Bronx Walk of Fame.
Rita Moreno's marker on the Bronx Walk of Fame.

Bonuses for those jury duty days ending at 2 o’clock:
11Ben Shahn murals at the Bronx Main Post Office (149th & GC) — lobby filled with large murals painted by artist Ben Shahn and his wife Bernarda Bryson Shahn, during the Roosevelt administration. The panels depict the American worker of the 1930s and include one of Walt Whitman speaking to a crowd of people.  In 1933, Diego Rivera asked Shahn to be an assistant on his infamous mural at Rockefeller Center and Bernarda Bryson was a reporter from Ohio who’d come to New York to interview Rivera.

Ben Shahn mural at Bronx Main Post Office.
Ben Shahn mural at The Bronx Main Post Office.

12.  Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos (149th & GC) — directly opposite the Bronx Main Post Office, check out whatever is on exhibit there, it is a bright airy gallery space.

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An Hour Lost, A Friend Gained

Homemade Banana Cream Pudding at Bruckner Bar & Grill
No complaints from me about the time change. I’m always glad to see the sun set later.

I had a chizzy Sunday brunch at the Bruckner Bar & Grill with artist Stephanie Chisholm. First order of business, to congratulate her on her newly released book Alphabet City!  Animals from A to Z making their way, or “frolicking” as Chiz says, around New York City: on the A train, at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, riding the M96 bus…My favorite is “G”, with Giraffe helping a scared baby monkey clutching the spire of the Empire State Building. I’m smitten with her monkeys. Stephanie had a write up on the uber nesting blog Apartment Therapy — they liked ” V” — Vampire Bat.

Her paintings are joyous.  Alphabet City is for the wee ones, tweens, teens and their parents.

We talked and talked, not even missing the lost hour and shared a bowl of the homemade banana cream pudding. Ohhhh it is good. Instead of a bed of Nilla wafers at the bottom, they’ve pureed them up fine, and mixed them right into the custard.

We took a walk down Bruckner Boulevard. Less and less to see on this stretch of Bruckner Boulevard these days. Most of the antique shops were closed (’cause it was Sunday?) and some spaces vacant inside. And I was shocked to see the “Available for Lease” sign on the window of the ground floor space at Lincoln Avenue. The Bronx Museum of Arts Project Space is there no more?? I recently read in the Bronx Times that artists are leaving South Bronx neighborhoods Mott Haven and Longwood for Wakefield, Highbridge and Westchester Square. Delicate times we are in.

We stepped into Haven Arts gallery to see the exhibits there. “DEADLY4MULA”, a graffiti exhibit is up. Tags and graffiti pieces painted directly on the walls by young artists from Bronx high school Millennium Art Academy, are side by side with veteran graf writers. Paintings, photographs and sculptures are mounted on the tagged walls.

Also on exhibit, various “Homeless and Hungry God Bless” signs once held by homeless street beggars but purchased by artist and Haven Arts Gallery owner, Barry Kostrinsky.

At the back of the space, is a large wooden platform and ramp set up for in line skating we were told. I would love to see that.

I deeply enjoyed the Polaroid photographs in the grouping “Last Gasp: The Passing of Polaroid Film” by J.C. Rice and Barry Kostrinsky. [Titled “Last Gasp” because Polaroid went bankrupt and stopped producing the film last year.] I have expressed before in this blog how much I love Polaroids. I love that kind of hazy dreamy quality the photos have–a bit out of focus like a memory.

They had all kinds of vintage Polaroid cameras in a bookcase on display. Fabulous! And what made Steph and I utterly gasp, was the pair of Sylvania Blue Dot flash cubes there on the shelf. I have not seen those for years and years!! Wow! I will never forget those cubes burning the center of my forehead when it rotated around. So old school. But so fun to remember.

Make sure to visit the bathroom in Haven Arts, even if you don’t have to go. It is, its own gallery space and should not be missed.


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En Foco and Pregones Theatre Present…

The Pregones Theatre was lively on Wednesday evening.  With people filing in straight off the Trolley and others with kids darting in out of the cold. Everyone was coming for the {free} concert with Los Charlatanes & Navegante and to take in the gorgeous portraits on exhibit by photographer Rojelio Reyes Rodriguez.  I was there for the photos and a chance to say hello to Marisol Diaz of En Foco. Us folk mingling together in the front hall kept being shushed by Pregones staff…funny considering the booming music pouring in from the concert in the theatre (which was packed).  Good time had by all!

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En Foco is a Bronx based non-profit devoted to exposing photography from camera holders representing diverse cultural perspectives. They publish a gorgeous award winning magazine, Nueva Luz, and offer a lot of resources to get photographers exhibit ready. The latest post on their blog, for example, is how to exhibit on a lean budget.

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Pregones is a community theatre and a really great space. They’ve been in the Bronx since 1979 and have incredible savings on their ticket pricing to keep the theatre accessible.  They offer Zip Tickets, 50% off for residents in zip codes 10451/Mott Haven, 10452/Highbridge, 10454/Port Morris, and 10474/Hunts Point. This is their special gift to their friends and neighbors in the Bronx Empowerment Zone.  They also offer 30% off for full-time students and adults over 65.

Actually, with the discount, the cost of a ticket for most of their productions, is not much more than going to see a movie.

It’s important to keep supporting our Bronx arts organizations, now more than ever!

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More about the Bronx Culture Trolley in here.

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What do Graffiti Artists do When They Grow Up?

Ezo showing his work on exhibit at Longwood Art Gallery.

Ezo with his work at the Longwood Art Gallery in the Bronx.

I love to hear artists talk about their work.  Yes, the work should stand on its own. Commentary from the artist should not be necessary.  That’s one school.  But I saw the exhibit Graffiti Spirit of an Age @ 40 x 10 * without it.  And I was really confused.  I got that this was a kind of “where are they now” for these former graffiti writers from the mid-80s.  But the work–metal sculpture, collage, prints, paintings–all together didn’t have a binding theme.  The work I liked the least didn’t resemble any of the other work in that it looked most like graffiti.  And a couple of canvasses looked unfinished.  So we went back for the Artists Talk. Three of the ten showed.  (“Graf artists are shy and don’t like to come out,” Ezo explained.)  They talked honestly and openly. They have a love/hate view of their graffiti period–they recognize it as a vital part of their past, but one they’re not often eager to ‘fess up to.  The afternoon turned into a bit of a love fest. Mainly teenage guys in attendance, a few taking photos. One guy was filming with his point & shoot camera, ran out of space and then started recording with his iPhone. (He’d hacked it. I asked.) Others came with their black sketchbooks asking the old school writers for their tags.

(*The 40 x 10 in the show title refers to the size of a subway car…Thanx Kool Spin for making me sound like I knew all along!)

Here are what Ezo, Klass and Cey had to say about their graffiti artist days:

Ezo's tagEzo today = painter…uses pre-columbian imagery and saints in his paintings, influenced by war and the US involvement in the Middle East, working on a series of canvasses on the Seven Deadly Sins.

Ezo: “Graffiti is vandalism…There should be a way to channel this energy into another art form…keep art school programs…the city politicians should have been taking care of their business…how could they blame 13 and 14 year kids for what was happening in New York?…New York City doesn’t embrace graffiti as art like Europe or even as some other cities in the U.S.”

Cey speaking on his work at Longwood Art Gallery.
Cey speaking on his work at Longwood Art Gallery.

Cey today = graphic artist and art director…influenced by pop art and superheroes, Warhol and Lichtenstein…learned screenprinting from one of Warhol’s Factory printers…uses Diamond Dust (tiny fragments of ground diamonds) on his work.

Cey: “Kids are always going to look for a way to get into trouble…part of doing the graffiti was the thrill of it, falling down, getting cut, sneaking into the train yard–you always had a good story to tell afterward…but today, I try to convince the young guys not to do it.”

Klass in front of his work at the Longwood Art Gallery.
Klass in front of his work at the Longwood Art Gallery.

Klass today — experiments a lot with materials…his pieces are layered and textured and explore a trip to Cuba to explore his heritage…trained to be an art teacher, three times up for the job, each time cancelled due to budget cuts…works as a graphic and commercial artist…

Klass: “Back then there were not a lot choices, you could either do this thing, or do that thing and hang with those kids who got arrested the week before, or hang out with the other kids and paint…my work is therapy, a way of dealing with the internal demons…I’m through with painting letters.  It’s time to move on.”


Juanita Lanzó, Program Coordinator, at Longwood Art Gallery

Juanita Lanzó, Program Coordinator, at Longwood Art Gallery.


Filmmaker Charlie Ahearn in orange parka listening in.

Wildstyle filmmaker, Charlie Ahearn, in orange parka listening in.


Kool Spin tagging a sketch book.

Kool Spin tagging a sketchbook.

Street Life Street Art Opening Day In A Word…Muy Caliente

Street Fair on Opening Day of "Street Art Street Life" at the Bronx Museum

The weather on Sunday was sizzlin’ and steamy for the Bronx Museum of the Arts opening day fair of “Street Art Street Life.” It felt more like July than September. A lot of us were swarming around the Delicioso Coco Helado pushcart.  I slurped on a coconut icee (yummm) which helped…for about five minutes.

Offerings from local artists.
Exhibition Catalogue available by co-publisher Aperture
Exhibition catalogue on display.

The sidewalk in front of the museum was lined with local artisans and graffiti artists tempting us with paintings, drawings, pottery, jewelry and one of a kind hand printed garments and totes.

Chiz brought her farm animal prints.
Chiz brought her farm animal prints to the Grand Concourse.

I was happy to see, and meet, Bronx painter Chiz.  I love her sock monkeys! If I ever wanted to write a children’s book, I’d love to have her illustrate.

Bronx Museum staff, Holly Block Executive Director and Sergio Bessa, Director of Education
Bronx Museum staff, Holly Block Executive Director and Sergio Bessa, Director of Education

Holly Block, Museum Executive Director and Sergio Bessa, Director of Education stepped into the sidewalk “photo booth” for a portrait.

DJ Laylo spins on the ones and twos.
DJ Laylo spins on the ones and twos takin' us waaayyy back...

Tucked away in probably the coolest spot on the sidewalk, DJ Laylo was blending some serious old school beats and keeping the vibe super cool.

Rokafella, Hip Hop dancer Extraordinaire!
b-girl, Rokafella, Hip Hop dancer Extraordinaire!
One Hand Handstand by Hip Hop dancer from Geo and Friends
One Hand Handstand by Hip Hop dancer from Geo and Friends

Inside the museum, Hip Hop dance performances were every hour to the beats of DJ Scientific behind the tables.  We caught b-girl Rokafella and Geo and Friends.  (Rokafella, an artistic director and dance instructor, organized all the dance performances.) Their head spins, shoulder spins, locks and handstands kept the Museum rockin’.

Bronx Museum Lobby
Bronx Museum Lobby "Street Art Street Life" Opening Day

The exhibition itself was not what I thought it would be, a survey of street arts in the Bronx and the Hip Hop movement.  “Street Art Street Life” is a broader look at street life post World War II to present day with selected moments of life on the streets of cities and towns well beyond the Bronx — of India and Austria and Berlin for example.   Guest curator Lydia Yee has selected work from a range of 39 artists and photographers including Vito Acconci, Amy Arbus, Jamel Shabazz, Lee Friedlander, Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper and Joseph Beuys. We went through the gallery quickly. I know I need to go back and spend more time. I look forward to it.

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