Tag Archives: New York

Shelter, below and above ground

is fundamental on this Grand Concourse construction site, where I am the resident arborist.

I’ve always had a penchant for the plywood trenches built for the crew to go down into the bowels of the earth to repair the sewer pipes.

They look so much like upside down houses, and the carpenter on this crew, Joseph, builds the house as the men proceed with the work, not before. People are always scrambling down long ladders to get to the pipes below.

It would be like living in a house as you construct it. This one is so deep that the walls have to be immensely sturdy and perfect – a person could easily be squashed in a collapse. It has happened.

I remember as a child building tiny dream houses in trees out of acorns and twigs. I climbed the apple tree sometimes but was more drawn to creating a home at the base of an oak trunk in the front yard.

Same, a little later, when I fell in love the The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, the novel which portrays a family living in a cigar box.

I would have given anything to do that, live in miniature, especially since I loved the smell of cigar tobacco.

I can also relate to that other essential element in construction – tree guards.

What is their purpose exactly? Someone who has gone down a street lined with them might inquire. Of course, they are created to protect the tree during construction, in particular to protect the critical root zone so that it doesn’t get trampled or mashed (compacted) in the course of the work, impairing the health of the tree. They’re also great for making sure a piece of heavy equipment doesn’t knock the tree over. Trees are perishable and need this protection. When the tree guard gets mangled by heavy equipment, you can knock the box back into shape pretty easily.

But who’s got the time to set them up straight the way they should be? Eventually, the foreman orders one of the crew to do it.

I’ve seen neighborhood people make tree guards a part of their lives, ornamenting them. These ribbons wind up from the tree guard.

Or using them in some kind of stunt, like hanging a chair over the top, ha ha.

Or just making use of them in some fashion. Mop drying.

They are inherently house-like, the perfect temporary home for a tree under assault by forces engaged in making roads and sidewalks.

So you may find their orange snow netting unsightly, but it serves a crucial purpose.

Tree protection–as the trench is person-protection.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

Dollar coffee

is a bodega staple I’ve always thought is among the best things in the Bronx. Hot, strong, milky and cheap. It’s universal in the borough, along with the chopped cheese sandwich (also known as a chop cheese), a mess of ground beef, melted cheese, tomato, lettuce, a mystery sauce and some other things on a Kaiser roll, guaranteed to drip down your chin.

Within this little microburst of a neighborhood, just a few blocks of the Grand Concourse, I’m beginning to scratch the surface of its foodways.

There is the grocery I park my car next to–onions out front– which features floors cleaner than mine at home, a full butcher counter, a sandwich maker, iced coffee, a spic and span bathroom (with toilet paper!) and a tiny litter box, presumably for a tiny cat. And at the cash register the loveliest woman, whose brother owns the place.

Searching in another greengrocer for a bathroom (It’s in the basement! Headshaking no) I’m in a quandary. This place has a dozen varieties of tuber but no public bathroom.

An elderly gentleman wearing a kerchief directs me to Lulo, a restaurant across the street.

It is the official house of goats. A guy on the sidewalk yesterday told me I look like a horse. Could have been worse. Anyway, I don’t eat horses, and I don’t eat goats, I like their Satanic eyes too much. Lulo is also immaculate, all of its furniture covered with slick, easy to wipe down plastic.

Home to the dollar coffee, the Grand Concourse is also home to The Real Coffee Man.

And, shock, the dollar slice.

I thought that was obsolete. And I’ll give it a try one of these days, coffee on the side.

There is such careful attention given to selecting among the fruits and vegetables on the little produce stands on nearly every corner. The proprietess tenderly chooses the perfect tomatoes for a man on a bike.

Kennedy Chicken, Popeye’s and Dunkin may have a foothold here on the GC, but as long as chop cheese reigns, they will never push off the mom and pops.

1 Comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

Outside of NYC

you wouldn’t guess we have

native plants

waterfalls

towering old trees (this one a kentucky coffee tree)

wildflowers

magical floating spheres amid reeds

more wildflowers

But we do.

When you come to New York, go to Times Square or the Statue of Liberty, by all means, but visit the Botanical Garden in the Bronx if you want to get your green on.

1 Comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

The grand dame

that is the Grand Concourse in the Bronx has certainly seen better days.

But there is still an awful lot of life there. Crews are installing new sidewalks and new medians separating the wide boulevards (2 lanes and a service road in each direction). They need a tree inspector to make sure no harm comes to the gingkos and zelkovas lining the avenue.

You’ve got wonder about people in the city, the way they love to lean things up against trees. Why? They can be told again and again not to and still you find a clutter of debris around the base of a tree. In this case it’s actually condoned. Huh?

But if you’re in the neighborhood, why not enjoy the local scenery?

I like hand lettered wall art.

Bronx residents love fruit, judging by the number of produce stands, including this one that has the owner peeling your orange for you.

There is still some of the past. The Grand Concourse was built in the late 1800s to rival the great boulevards of Europe, and it soon became a middle class haven, before the advent of white flight and the deterioration of the Bronx in general. Once in a while you meet someone who tells you their old Jewish granny used to live on the Concourse.

Glimmers of the past exist.

And most amazing, a  hulking, barely visible grand building.

Behind the scaffolding stand, the Paradise Theater, built in 1929 and used for various types of entertainment since, even since it fell on terrible times – supposedly a church holds forth there now, though that’s hard to believe.

The ticket book evokes times gone by, as does the ceiling above it.

But really, the Concourse is contemporary.

Concerned with the important things.

Fresh.

And the home of thousands of grand pit bulls. This one snarls, then comes in for a pet.

I’m not sure about his manners, but he’s a handsome devil.

I wonder if pit bulls were the breed of choice at the turn of the century? Helen Keller had a pit bull named Sir Thomas. She was born in that era, so maybe the Grand Concourse was teeming with them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

Nooks and crannies

pretty much define what’s so great about the Metropolitan Museum. Everyone who has gone there a lot has favorites.

It’s hard not to love the Atrium outside the American Wing. You can drink ridiculously overpriced coffee and gaze out the bank of windows at Central Park in its summer glory.

But your personal favorite might be the Rodin hallway, or the gallery with Vermeer’s Young Woman With a Water Pitcher.

Mine include the Astor Court, a Chinese garden inspired by one in China nearly four hundred years ago. Craftsmen travelled from China to NY to build it and did not use a single nail in its construction(gallery 217), a contemplative gem which you might be lucky enough to have all to yourself.

Or  the whole Luce collection. The Henry R.Luce Center for the Study of American Art occupies the mezzanine of the American Wing, and is sort of like the Met’s attic, there for scholars but for other culture grazers interested in not just the highest of high art. In perfect Lucite-boxed rows, dozens of versions of the same object are arranged. There may be 40 19th century green pressed-glass plates, for example. Or rare-vintage silver demitasse spoons. Or wackadoodle porcelain figurines like this deranged fawn.

When there is a major show, like the one that’s up now with Alice Neel portraits, you go.

It’s an amazing exhibit; visit if you’re in New York.

But there are still the nooks and crannies.

When I’m at the Museum I find that I must make a stop at the ancient linens. Hang a quick right coming out of the Temple of Dendur and you’ll find bolts and lengths of intact textiles from ancient times.

What really touched King Tutenkamen, and everyone else, was linen. People who lived in ancient Egypt believed that the Gods were clothed in linen before they came to earth. It was sacred and yet mundane. I always love historic textiles because they occupy a place so close to the human body. If you think about it, what other role do textiles play besides clothing and bedding and diapers (the old Dutch term for a type of linen, not just baby items)? Flags, maybe? This wool bunting is from an 1816 American flag.

Linen has been found in graves dating back to the Neolithic Period. And we all know that mummies are wrapped in linen. Actually, a mummy’s bindings are torn up linen bedsheets. Sericulture, the raising of silkworms, had not yet come to Egypt.

The Egyptians wore white linen because it was difficult to make a strong lasting dye, but they still loved color. They applied rouge to their cheeks, red ointment to their lips, and henna to their nails and feet. Ladies traced the veins on their temples and breasts with blue paint. They tipped their nipples with gold. A green eye shadow made from powdered malachite was paired with kohl. Worn above a sweep of white linen, what could be more godlike?

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman

Bringing a forest to NYC

can be a lot of work, even for Maya Lin. Yes, that Maya Lin, the one who designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC (opened in 1982, when Lin was 23), winning a lot of criticism at first and then nothing but accolades.

The same Maya Lin designed a factory in Yonkers, the city next to where I Iive, that makes scrumptious brownies, which find their way into Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. The factory employs people who might otherwise be unemployable with open hiring policies—not requiring resumes, for example. It’s called the Greyston Bakery, and its motto is: “We don’t hire people to make brownies, we make brownies in order to hire people.” 

Every once in a while Greyston makes its brownies available to the public, and they are irresistible (coming from someone who makes a mean brownie herself).

Lin applied her touch to other Yonkers venues, including a shuttered city jail and an environmental installation at the Hudson River Museum. And she created wonderful waves of landscape art at upstate New York’s Storm King sculpture park. Worth a viisit if you are in the area.

Now, in a Manhattan park, she has planted a grove of forty-nine Atlantic white cedars, with the odd factor that the trees were dead before she harvested them  from the New Jersey pine barrens.

The piece is called Ghost Forest. It’s a harsh comment on climate change. Before the 1700s, Atlantic white cedars provided at least 500,000 acres of habitat for unique plants and animals. Today there are just 50,000 acres of the species. Ghost forests are a widespread phenomenon in coastal areas, a matter of concern among ecologists.

In fact, believe it or not “ghost tree farts” are a recognized by-product of such tracts. Standing dead trees, also called snags, have been killed by saltwater. They no longer have a leaf canopy to photosynthesize and consume carbon dioxide. So they can potentially increase the ecosystem’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to 25 percent.

Snags don’t move water and nutrients around for growth. The gases they emit probably come from decaying wood or emissions oozing up from the soil. Scientists are alarmed by the world-wide profusion of dead forests, as the ocean rises and saltwater intrudes on heretofore healthy wetlands. Some ecologists have made it a focal point of their study, such as Emily Ury, here measuring soil salinity.

The trees Lin brought to New York came from  a stand that had been infiltrated by salt water and were being cleared as part of a regeneration effort. When I think of the pine barrens it brings a spooky scene to mind: we canoed down a river in November and as night came on passed close enough to a dead deer lying underneath the water to prod it with a paddle. A perfect crescent slice had been taken out of its flank, cattle mutilation style.

The deterioration of our forests unlikely to be an issue on the mind of any of the hundreds of picnickers among the Ghost Forest installation. It’s the most beautiful spring day of all time, at the final gasp of a horrific pandemic, after all. The last thing anyone wants to think about is the end of a livable earth as we know it.

But some visitors may tune in to another element of the installation, a soundscape accessible via smart phone, that renders what you might have heard at what is now 26th Street and Broadway five hundred years ago. The audio track has English names, Latin names and linguistic translations from the Lenape Center in New York City. How cool is that? Madison Square Park sits on the traditional homeland of the Lenape-Delaware people. Using West Virginia species that are living today, the acoustic exhibit takes you into the forest: grey fox howling, cougar meowing, American black bear vocalizing with a sort of urgent whine, a beaver splashing its tail in water. 

To me, the haunting “sounds of the silenced” was worth the price of admission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jean Zimmerman