Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Skeletal pelicans near our front door, and carved pumpkins (spider on left, and cannibal pumpkin on right) from myself and Ed.

Back to regular posting tomorrow!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In time for Halloween: This Old House's 'Spooky Ruins'

This Old House online has a photo feature on Spooky Ruins, comprised of images from four members of Ars Subterranea. (Disclaimer: I'm involved with Ars Subterranea.) I was entertained by the posted comments; since this is for the This Old House audience, there's lots of talk about renovating the sites. And a fair amount of the posts argue which images are spooky and which are not. The photo feature is also currently linked to the main page of

My favorite is image 16 of 19. Which one is yours?

Image courtesy of Handcranked Productions.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Enter the humans

I haven't posted yet about my trip to Detroit, although I've been back since Sunday. Today's the first day I'm feeling somewhat normal, and even now it's pretty abnormal, as I've been off the caffeine for a day and a half now and keep wanting to make myself a fresh-brewed glass of iced tea.

There's so much to say about my six days in Detroit; where do I start? There are three big reasons that I went out: to see the abandoned structures of Detroit; to play a game; and to spend time with my friends exploring the abandoned structures and playing a game.

People have been saying that downtown Detroit is slowly being built back up. The biggest, newest thing in the city's history is a casino. I pretty much hate casinos. There are many abandoned schools, houses, factories, and churches, but not many abandoned casinos. (Hey, send me a link so I can gloat! ;))

Nonetheless, even with Detroit slowly rebuilding (A newspaper article that I read during my visit predicted 2022 as the year of The Motor City's recovery), there was plenty to see. There are still lots of abandoned sites, many completely accessible by simply walking through the area that was once the front door. I could've spent several more weeks there and not been bored in the slightest. Detroit was our playground for six days, and I'm thankful for that time.

I do get easily spooked in abandoned sites. One of my friends recently asked me if I felt the presence of ghosts in any of the places that I visited. The answer: No, not really. I'm afraid of the living people that I might meet during my explorations. For example, in one space, a man screamed bloody murder. His heart was being yanked out of his chest, and since we couldn't see him, we could only assume that the yanking was figurative. This happened in a space filled with light, yet it was terrifying to me.

In another instance, I saw figures moving down a hallway, at which three of us were at the end of, installing an artwork. As they got closer, I couldn't stand the suspense any longer and approached them. They had been unaware of our presence and stood completely still as I walked towards them. Everything was cool, but 45 minutes later, a fire blocked our entrance/exit, and I think it was these hooligans that set the fire.

One somewhat early morning found a couple of us exploring the residential neighborhood of Highland Park, one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. We found a fantastic house to use during our scavenger hunt, only to return a day later and feel completely unsafe with the number of loitering males located immediately next to the site.

So, for me, it is the humans that are scary; not the buildings. Sure, asbestos, lead paint, uneven floors, and holes are all things to be aware of in an abandoned building, but they're not fear-invoking on an immediate level like humans.

Devil's Night is on October 30 in Detroit, and it is a day known for burning buildings. Signs were stapled to many abandoned sites stating "This building is being watched. Stop Halloween arson, call [phone number]". Mischief and the smell of gasoline filled the air, and I wouldn't be surprised if some Detroiters mistakenly thought that our group was comprised of pyromaniacs. Some previously-burned buildings have now become empty mounds of grass and dirt, while others stand on display half-charred. There is a history of burning buildings in urban areas - most notably, the Bronx - and there are many reasons behind the fires. Insurance claims and vandalism tend to top the list. In Detroit, law-abiding citizens in poor areas have burned crack houses down, and structures have been lit so that they are demolished quicker. Sometimes the houses are older wood and brick structures and sometimes they are made of different materials. I'll be thinking of Detroit this Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

bringing le nain rouge

We'll be in Detroit for the next six days.

(I won't be here, because Slumpy is no longer.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Open House New York | Sunday, October 7

I spent the second day of my Open House New York (OHNY) weekend in an area about 1/2 square mile large, maybe even smaller.

First, I worked my volunteer shift from 10-2 at Brooklyn Lyceum. I'd been there last year for a haunted house, which means that my perception of the place was completely different this time: for example, I wasn't getting buried alive or in completely dark, claustrophobic spaces (which is, indeed, what I do sometimes for fun).

The Brooklyn Lyceum is a former bathhouse turned community arts center. The amount of activity that happens at the Lyceum is amazing. During OHNY, about 40 people showed up to rehearse an opera that was going to be performed onsite that Wednesday; dads and sons were showing up to use the batting cage upstairs; and Fiona Apple and Yo La Tengo had performed there the night before as part of The New Yorker Festival.

Owner Eric Richmond gave an incredibly fascinating tour; he has conducted extensive research on the building and the neighborhood's history. I told him a couple of times to put some of these stories down on paper, because they'd make a great book. (Think disease & death, the mafia, and gentrification.) I spent the majority of my time telling people to sign the OHNY guest book and talking to Eric's sister, Laura, who was very nice. The Lyceum is a great example of a private individual restoring a landmark building and turning it into something positive for a "marginal" neighborhood.

After the Lyceum, I headed to the Gowanus Canal to sign up for a self-guided canoe tour with the Gowanus Dredgers. The wait was about two hours long, but another lone OHNY attendee convinced me to to visit sculptor Tom Otterness' studio while I waited. His tours were completely booked, but everybody present at the start time was invited in, so we lucked out. If you're from NYC, you probably recognize his work from the A, C, and E subway stop at 14th Street & 8th Avenue, my neighborhood stop for 8 years when Ed and I lived on 14th Street.

Otterness' work is very playful yet politically challenging. His cartoon-like metal works make the crankiest New Yorkers smile. Beyond a glance, though, his work is anti-establishment. After several questions about his technical process, I asked about the political aspect of his work and how his style helped make the medicine go down, so to speak. He reminded us that the story of Humpty Dumpty worked the same way and that he had contemplated the idea the previous evening while watching a Richard Pryor video. Otterness also said that the MTA has only restricted his work on one occasion, when he created rats wearing police uniforms. One of the rats is permanently on view at Max Fish, a Lower East Side bar that one of his friends runs.

Children and adults can climb into the head of this sculpture and have a moment to themselves.

Otterness with a work that he is giving to his child's public school.

Otterness' studio was full of warm vibes, but it was time to get back to the Gowanus Canal for my canoe tour. News earlier in the week of the Canal having gonorrhea did nothing to dissuade hundreds of people from wanting to paddle in the Canal's waters.

I was by myself, so I was grouped with two others for the trip. Since I had talked about kayaking, I was put into the steering position of the canoe. Although it took me a few minutes to get the hang of it, it was fun being the steerer. (I would not have wanted to sit in the middle, and I'm sure that my forceful paddling would've irritated anybody else in a steering position.)

The last several times I was in a kayak or rowboat (which seems to be happening almost frequently now), I was surrounded by nature. In Newfoundland, there were Bald Headed Eagles above us; and, yes, City Island looks like a national park compared to the Gowanus Canal. But being surrounded by industrial ruins while canoeing was almost just as enjoyable as being surrounded by natural beauty. Too bad our tours were only 15-20 minutes long; I could've stayed out there for a while.

Has it perished? Does it exist?

Yesterday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama finished three days of teachings at Radio City Music Hall, here in New York City. The teachings were on the Diamond Cutter Sutra & Seventy Verses on Emptiness.

To be blunt, the teachings, which I attended, made me aware of how I need to start practicing again and seriously read the sutras. I vascillated between drowsy and awake, aware and asleep, informed and ignorant. This was the second series of His Holiness' teachings that I've attended and the fourth time I've heard him lecture. When His Holiness talks to the general public, it is very easy to follow, but when he gives teachings, it's pretty dense for my level of knowledge.

There hasn't been a lot of philosophy and theory on this blog lately, and there is a connection between His Holiness' lecture and urban exploration. I hope to have some time to reflect upon the Diamond Cutter Sutra during my travels in the next week, and the below is a good start. At the very least, I will think of these verses and reflect upon abandoned sites:

From the Seventy Verses on Emptiness by Nagarjuna (translated into English by Gareth Sparham):

Permanent is not; impermanent is not; a self is not; not a self [is not]; clean is not; not clean is not; happy is not; suffering is not.

A state of existence would be a permanent state, and if it did not exist, it would be thoroughly annihilated. There would be those two [extremes] if there were things. Hence we do not assert things.

It is not [the mark of what] has not perished, nor [of what] has perished. What has lasted is not lasting and what has not lasted does not last either. The produced and unproduced are not produced.

All are impermanent. Alternatively, impermanence and permanence do not exist. Were things [to have an own-being], they would be impermanent or permanent, but how could that be?

Could somebody please write Mahayana Buddhism and the Art of Urban Exploration? I'd really like to read it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Open House New York | Saturday, October 6

I'm home today recovering from a hectic Open House New York weekend. This year, I feel that I finally took full advantage of the weekend, seeing 7 different sites and volunteering a shift. The most frequent comment that I've been hearing lately about OHNY is that there's too much to see in too little time. This is absolutely true, and it's a game of geography and prioritization. (It was also 85 degrees outside, so heat was also a factor for some attendees.)

I was lucky to get a spot on Ellis Island's South Side tour. On Saturday, I woke at an extremely early hour to get to the Circle Line by 8 a.m. Fog was heavy in my Bronx neighborhood, and it was heavier in lower Manhattan, so heavy that the Coast Guard didn't let the first boat go until 10:15 a.m. (rather than the 8:30 boat that would've allowed the tour attendees to get to Ellis Island for the 9:30 a.m. tour). Since I had a 1:45 p.m. reservation on The High Line, I chose to forgo the later Ellis Island tour to ensure that I could visit the High Line. A new friend on line chose to give up her scheduled Fresh Kills tour to attend the Ellis Island tour. (!) The book will have to do for now...

I decided to go straight to Chelsea and see whatever I could in that neighborhood before the tour. My first stop was the General Theological Seminary on Ninth Ave. at 20th Street. It was a good warm-up spot and made me realize how a lot of Open House New York is (for me) about seeing the City in a different light. The Episcopalian Seminary is an entire city block of tranquility for the over 200 current students. The entrance building is going to be torn down in early 2008, and a higher building will take its place. Most of the OHNY sites that I visited will be changing architecturally in the near future.

Although listed in the OHNY guide, The Desmond Tutu Education Center was not open. It is run by the General Theological Seminary, so signs directed vistors to that site.

Since it was in the neighborhood, the next stop was Anderson Architects on West 25th Street. I could see its roof deck as I walked up 10th Avenue. Besides the gorgeous outdoor space, AA was interesting in that it was accessed via an elevator that opened directly to the street. (There's a gated door to the elevator that is swung open each morning.) The site gave me office envy, not only for the aesthetics of the space (both office and rooftop) but also for the creativity visibly demonstrated at each individual work station and throughout the floor.

Secret organizations are an interest of mine, and I quickly walked to the Grand Lodge of Masons; I've been told several times to visit this site. (NOTE: It is open for public tours Monday through Saturday.)

Although the rooms are grandly decorated, I most enjoyed hearing the Mason tourguides answer questions about the Masons. (My grandfather was a Mason, and I remember going to Mason picnics when I was young.) Many ideals and concepts were repeatedly stated: "The brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of god, whomever you may conceive him to be"; "We are not a social club"; "We cannot talk about religion or politics."

We were told that we would be attending the short tour; the 75-minute long tour was given during the week. An hour later, we had only toured half of the rooms (the tour is 6 floors long, each floor being two stories tall), and we had to leave before seeing "the wow room" in order to make our High Line appointment.

The half hour High Line tour covered what is known as "the upper third", the portion which runs over the West Side Rail Yards and is not secure from demolition (the other 2/3 of the High Line is secure and in construction to become a public park). We walked during the entire tour, and the scenery changed dramatically. I had an opportunity to go on the High Line in (I think) 2001, and I didn't go, so I was very happy to have another chance.

Here's a view of the West Side Rail Yards:

The big picture:

Preparing the lower 2/3 to become a public park:

Photographer Joe Sternfeld's book Walking the High Line documents the site circa 2000/2001. It is going to be reprinted this year with a few different photos, according to the Friends of the High Line volunteer that I spoke with on Saturday.

This was my Open House New York Saturday. The Sunday locations that I visited will be in another post.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Goodbye, summer?

Summer is my favorite season. I'm from Arizona, and I really love it when it gets hot outside. Sunshine makes me incredibly happy. (Having said that, I'm glad that I live somewhere with the four seasons.) I thought that last weekend would be the last weekend of summer weather, but that remains to be seen, as one newspaper article yesterday referred to our current weather as being typical of mid-July temperatures.

Last Saturday, I rode my bike again to City Island, approximately 10 miles each way. This forces me to exercise, and City Island is well worth the trip. There is nothing profound that I can say about the ride; it was just fun. And the tilapia that I had at The Original Crab Shanty was also good (and about 3 servings' worth).

On Sunday, Ars Subterranea held a low-key event, just a simple potluck on abandoned ships in Brooklyn. We all gathered in a retail store's parking lot, and then Julia led the way to the boats. Rotting wood, large nails, seaweed, crabs, and huge fish and jellyfish -- I saw none of this at City Island, but I wasn't looking, either.

The public who attends Ars Subterranea events (in this case, there was a large waiting list for the event) are really very interesting and enjoyable to hang around with, which is great. There was a metal crossway to an island at the location, and several attendees crossed over. I was a bit nervous -- I didn't want to fall into that water -- but the others were more than nice and supportive about it. (And I got to the other side easily.) There's a strong sense of camaraderie at urban exploration events, more so than in other aspects of my life.

The area with the abandoned boats and submarine (on top of which swans have built a home) is quite large. We went at low tide so that we could enjoy our picnic on the boat remains; during high tide, most of the site is unreachable.

Nathan Kensinger's blog has some romantic images of the event.

Monday, October 1, 2007

October's not just a publication.

Wow, October's here already! I spent this last weekend saying goodbye to the summer, and I'll post about that later this week.

In the meantime...Have you ever gone on a shopping spree and bought several books online, only to forget which ones you bought and then receive them like presents in the mail days later?

That's how I felt upon receiving Chain #11: Public Forms in today's mail.

Below is an excerpt from Akilah Oliver's "The Visible Unseen" (p 201). [The photo is a preview of my seasonal wrap-up and doesn't accompany the writing but is appropo.]

as a form
graffiti is in a constant state of tension
shifting its nomadic position spatially
it upsets
through combat
the bodies insist on painting themselves in markets they
seemingly have no legitimate right to
in its refusal to disappear it forces a discourse in the public
we are forced to see what we would rather