Category Archives: Art

Hear Me Roar

Myriad gnarly lions guard the brick houses of Queens. These are among the gnarliest, even if they are surrounded by pretty posies.  

There are chickens running uncooped down the street here, 104 street in Howard Beach. Maybe they’ll eat them.

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All This and a Cow Face Too

It looks like I will soon be working a new assignment, in a park rather than the mean streets of Brooklyn. Green! Summer! Lofty trees! Even a lake.

Yet I already feel nostalgic for this world of impressively staunch street trees, truck exhaust and rough-edged asphalt corners.

I’ve spent the last week on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, a neighborhood that is dominated by Carribbean customs and flavors. I walk around and everything is out of my wheelhouse, out of my comfort zone.  It’s amazing.

The men on my job pour concrete sidewalks, and the inspectors deliberate over the quantity of water in the mix.

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Meanwhile, without a tree to care for today, I roam. Salvation beckons on just about every corner.

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What about the second born and third born? The gospel is tucked away sometimes.

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I always want to get the names of the tabernacles down when I’m driving past and regret not being able to. I never knew so many existed.

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I like watching how women go about their lives here. There are produce stands everywhere, some with edibles I know.

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And some that baffle me. Some kind of space potato, maybe.

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The ladies here comb the displays for the perfectly ripe mango or green coconut and select just that one, foregoing a bagful, whether out of economy or exacting taste I don’t know. I love that these markets have not been coopted, all saran wrapped like Shoprite. This is a foreign land where newcomers have retained their habits.

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The offerings at Fish World just swam in this moning from the West Indies.

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There are baby sharks, delicate porgies and orange striped fish that look like Nemo. Me and the other women get a stainless bowl and a plastic glove and lift the whole fish into the bowl to go to the register. I purchased a red snapper and baked it last night Veracruz style, it was delicious. There’s also a bin of heads and tails and shoppers have a field day with: soup fixings.

Every other store is a hair braiding joint or a nail salon. Women dress to impress, their aspirations indicated by this sign for a beauty shop.

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Signage fascinates me, like this lamppost poster. A woman on a bucking bull in Brooklyn.

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A very sexy rodeo. Really. Well, meat is a theme here, live or butchered, with some of the stores devoted to it (Meat Mart). You have to work your way through dank-smelling aisles to find the true gems, the items on sale today.

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I’m going to miss this neighborhood, its mysteries concentrated in a six block radius. I’m turned inside out, almost levitated by the power of all I don’t know.

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To Wee or Not to Wee

Let’s talk bodily functions. One bodily function.

I have crisscrossed Brooklyn many times now saving trees. The availability of a place to pee structures my day. After my commute to the site, always on a residential street with nary a store, the first thing I do is trek to the nearest commercial stretch to beg some bodega owner to use their restroom. It’s 6:45 am. Few places are open. Sometimes the person behind the counter just says No, with a cold, distrustful look in his eye.

Out of order! he sometimes says.

Really?

Women behind the counter more often take pity. One said, after the automatic Out of order! and after I begged her, plucking at my orange vest to show I was somehow for real, Only wee-wee? Yes! So I won her over.

The vest counts for a lot.

The day goes on as we proceed to lay new sidewalk and save trees at different sites throughout the borough, and I take breaks when I can to walk off to find facilities at a pizza parlor, a 7-11, a candy store, a diner. The stall at a diner is bare bones.

bare bones

I come back, the workers are digging. The men are pouring concrete, smoothing it out with their floaters. They’re throwing big hunks of old cement into the bucket of the back hoe.

Did they pee while I was gone?

I ask the engineer on the job: Where do they go?

He laughs. He seems surprised that a woman would raise such a distasteful subject with a man she barely knows. Really, I say. I’ve never seen them leave.

They have their ways, he says.

A laundromat I went to with a kind and respectful proprietor had Halloween decorations all over the walls, including framed ghoul portraits and red bloody handprints across all the washers and driers.

The woman had even decorated the bathroom, so that when you turned to the side this skeleton is what you would see. Giving the paying/peeing customer a little chuckle.

skeleton

We traveled across the country once, Gil, Maud and I, and before we left Gil ordered some kind of device off the web so that we wouldn’t have to stop so often at rest stops. Maud and I were disgusted, we didn’t even look at it. But now I sort of see the point.

I think the crew might have a pail in the back of the truck. One of them dumps it at the end of the day, like a chamber pot.

Female jet pilots take their facilities with them into the sky. When you’re flying for 11 hours, trekking to a bodega is not an option.

There are books and websites devoted to finding women’s rooms in various cities, including Manhattan. As far as I know there is not one on Brooklyn. But the quest leads me into some nooks and crannies I might otherwise regard as unworthy of my time, like a little Mexican grocery on Avenue U. The owner was polite in directing me to the back of the store, and as I walked through, past the kitchen, the aroma of fresh tortillas nearly knocked me over. So did the pic on the back of the bathroom door.

mexican

People ask if there are any women on the construction crews I’ve worked alongside. No, I say. Why do you think that is? we wonder. They’re just so strong, I say, It would be a very unusual woman who could do that kind of heavy labor.

There are dozens, hundreds of women macha enough to work construction. But that’s not the real reason, of course. It’s that a woman couldn’t hold it in.

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Mmmmmm…

Mmuseumm isn’t a typical hoity toity museum but a 4×5 exhibition space tucked into an old elevator shaft in Cortlandt Alley, in Manhattan’s Tribeca. An eclectic assortment of collections and individual objects, it aspires according to artistic director Alex Kalman to be a “modern natural history museum devoted to the curation and exhibition of contemporary artifacts that illustrate the complexities of the modern world.” It’s been entertaining and mystifying visitors since 2012.

mmuseumm

So you won’t find anything framed or pedestalled here. But you will find 12 eggs in a heated vitrine waiting to hatch, or a grouping of vicious looking fish hooks that one Doctor Robert Insley in Chatham, Mass., removed from a variety of patients.

fishhooks

Curious as to whether this diminutive place was a giant hoax or a cracked art installation or the real thing, whatever that might be – in other words, whether someone was laughing at me as I perused the rubber chicken wing and the real fake pork sandwich on the wall, I checked out a few facts on the web. It turned out that the thing that amazed me most, a collection of heads called Stranger Visions and credited to Heather Dewey-Hagborg, was the real thing.

head

Next to each head was a cigarette butt or piece of chewed gum or fingernail clipping. The bio-hacker brought the specimen to a lab, extracted its DNA, then ran the sequence through a facial algorithim and a 3D printer to find out what the gumchewer or smoker looked like. Yes, it might actually be a hoodwink. But it looks like those chicks might hatch.

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Stuck in the Middle of My Novel With You

I have been meaning to write and say that I’m taking a bit of a hiatus from writing this blog — but I guess that’s kind of obvious. Not that I don’t adore posting here, I do. And I have the greatest readers in the world. But I am stuck in the middle of novel-world, and my writing in the fictional format seems to be taking all of my mental energy. I’m telling the story of a teenage girl in Revolutionary-era NYC. She looks a bit like this, as I imagine her.

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I have her portrait tacked up to my bulletin board. And now I have to get back to her.

I will still post here from time to time, and pretty soon I’ll dive back in to the real world, and my real blog, every day.

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A Bronze Frolic

Interesting. The artist John Waddell, who is now 93, is best known for his larger-than-life bronze sculptures of young, frolicking nude women. He’s a longtime resident of the Verde Valley, and when I was in Arizona I got to see his tour-de-force Dance grouping in front of the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix.

dancer 1

According to Waddell’s bio, the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham became a pivotal event in his development as an artist. So the tragic death of four little girls led to his many portrayals of grown females in motion?

dancer 2

Some of the pieces here are quite arresting.

dancer 3

One couple reaches up to the highest boughs.

reaching up

The representational approach is not my cup of tea, especially. I liked the stuff the tree flung to the ground as much as the sculpture that rose above.

tree droppings

You can’t really imagine it the other way around, can you — a 93-year-old female sculptor receiving acclaim for her dancing young male nudes? No way.

But seeing all these women wending around the sidewalk, all that exertion, all that freedom, brought me out of myself somehow. I felt glad to see them there.

dancer 4

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Hummingbirds, Bats and Butterflies

The Desert Discovery Guide invited us to enjoy three zones along a trail that led out from the Scottsdale Senior Center: a hummingbird nest, a saguaro and bat sanctuary, and a butterfly garden.

desert garden

I foresaw bliss ahead, an afternoon of hummingbirds, bats and butterflies, all in one swooping, fluttering place.

We just had to follow the gleaming glass-embedded arrows.

green path

They look like jelly beans, said my mother.

jellly beans

The mesquite dangled over our heads.

mesquite

Desert blooms along the way tantalized us. They would be perfect for butterflies, wouldn’t they?

purple

There was a monstrous twin-headed cactii. A bat home! Where were the bats?

twin saguaro

Saguaro are unlike any other plant, said my mother. All the others follow a regular pattern. Not so the saguaro.

Walk, walk, follow the arrows. All around, mallow, the peachy-orange blooms that hummingbirds love.

blue path

Not a hummingbird to be seen, though, in a nest or out. No sanctuary for bats, no garden for butterflies.

A trail to nowhere, with plants in bud, an empty picnic table, a tall metal sculpture standing alone.

sculpture

But a kindly elf had constructed an ingenious dog fountain on the dirt, activated by paw pressure.

dog bowl

We went in hope of something and came away emptyhanded, but for a handful of jellybeans and thorns. Sounds like Easter is on its way.

 

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