The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘East River

peered diligently

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Visiting with an old friend, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Back in the day,” as it were, a humble narrator used to spend an awful lot of time on the Queensboro Bridge. When the 2009 Centennial Celebrations occurred, I was actually a deputy parade marshall, which the City rewarded me for with a medal. We got to close the bridge’s lower level for a few hours, and there were marching bands and a bevy of elected officials were present – including Michael Bloomberg himself. The very first posts at this – your Newtown Pentacle – discussed the event in some detail.

In recent years, as I’ve become more and more focused on Newtown Creek and its upland properties, my walks across mighty Queensboro have decreased in frequency and a recent realization that I hadn’t actually walked the span in more than a year prompted me to start kicking my feet forward and lurch roughly forward towards Manhattan. Unfortunately, this meant I was heading onto that loathsome island and leaving the intricate geometries of Queens behind for a spell.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who haven’t taken one of NYC’s best walks, the pedestrian and bicycle lane of the Queensboro is accessed at Queens Plaza near Crescent Street. It’s not a hard walk in the least, but it does offer some fairly decent “cardio” for half of it. The long sloping ascent from Queens Plaza to the tower set into Roosevelt Island carries you hundreds of feet from the ground, and despite the gradual nature of it – you will find your heart rate increasing steadily.

Bicycles will be whizzing by at fairly high rates of speed, so be mindful of your surroundings if you decide to undertake the stroll. If you bring your camera, you will be glad you did, as the views from up on high are spectacular.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the incline is severely felt by bicyclists, as I’ve observed them standing on the pedals and struggling against it several times. Many will dismount and walk their bikes. The “whizzing by” mentioned above occurs once they surmount the paramount of the bridge and the descending incline allows them to gain velocity quickly.

My favorite time of day for Queensboro, visually speaking, is the middle to late afternoon. The light is spectacular during that time of day, and the intricate cantilever gears of the great bridge are evenly illuminated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north along the East River, you’ll notice a series of steel structures which carry the Roosevelt Island Tram from Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue to the island. The tram is another one of my favorite destinations, incidentally, as it allows for a birds eye perspective on the Queensboro Bridge and the waterway it spans. One of “my walks” involves crossing the bridge, catching the tram, and then perambulating back to Astoria via the Roosevelt Island Bridge which carries pedestrian and vehicular traffic to Queens.

I’ll often stop off and hang out with my pal Judy Berdy at Roosevelt Island Historical Society when exiting the tram – which is located in a historic kiosk nearby the Tram’s landing point. You can’t miss it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Midpoint on the bridge, one always turns back and considers avoiding going to Manhattan altogether and returning to the poisoned loam of western Queens. In the instance of this particular journey, however, a humble narrator was set to meet up with friends in the City so I kept moving in a westerly direction.

I catch a lot of shade for the contempt with which Manhattan is discussed here. I actually used to live in the City for more than a decade, on Broadway at 100th street. Best move I’ve ever made was listening to Our Lady of the Pentacle when she announced that her desire was to move our HQ to Astoria. Back when I was a Manhattanite, my M.O. was “cocooning” – leaving the apartment only to go back and forth to work. There was no “community” to draw one out, and a vast depersonalization was experienced in the daily round. Whatever there once was that made the City an attractive place to live – night life, for instance – is long gone.

The City is a ruin, exploited and picked over and destroyed by the Real Estate Industrial Complex, and there is little fun to be had there anymore. Brooklyn and Queens are “where it’s at” these days – at least for one such as myself.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 18, 2015 at 1:00 pm

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Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion to Gowanus Bay saw our vessel plying the Buttermilk Channel section of the East River, which is found between Red Hook and Governors Island. The legend about how this section of the river ended up being called Buttermilk Channel states that back in colonial times, it was so shallow at low tide that Red Hook farmers would herd cattle over to the island for safe keeping and free grazing. Dredging projects in the industrial era lowered the depth hereabouts, creating a shipping channel.

As our vessel moved along, a big orange boat called the Staten Island Ferry entered into Buttermilk, which is pretty unusual. Incidentally, despite its size, the Ferry is a boat. If it could launch a boat, it would be a ship, but since it can’t, it’s a boat. Life boats don’t count, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was actually a dredging project that caused the anomaly. New York Harbor is an estuary situated between a giant conveyor belt for silt and soil called the Hudson River and the estuarial waters of Jamaica Bay and Long Island Sound. The back and forth tidal action of the East River, coupled with the titanic flow of the Hudson, causes the harbor floor to build up constantly and channel maintenance is an expensive but necessary activity ordained and financed by the ports people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as we were leaving Buttermilk Channel on our way to Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay, the NYPD Harbor Patrol came splashing by, offering themselves up with an iconic backdrop.

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Triborough and Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, one is taking a short break – hence the singular image which greets you above. Back soon with new stuff.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours and events –

October 10th, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm

last stages

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The modern day East River in today’s post, which bums me out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself once absolutely loved the idea of riding the East River Ferry. As a matter of fact, I seem to enjoy all ferry rides, presuming that the deck is accessible and amenable to photographic pursuits. These days, the actual experience of doing so brings on depressive episodes. One of the problems with the “historian” point of view is that you tend to realize that whatever rises must also fall, and that bills must ultimately be paid. That is why we all toil and labor, to service debts, and the City of New York is currently racking up a hell of a tab.

Recently, the Alice Oldendorf bulk cargo ship was observed at work, making a delivery to a concrete plant at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as I rode the aforementioned ferry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ship hosts a series of cranes and conveyors which unload her holds, producing the cyclopean mounds of sand and gravel witnessed above. It’s nice to know that at least some part of ancient Williamsburg still hosts a working waterfront, or at least a working waterfront that is engaged in the production of something other than artisanal pickles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot help but drop his jaw whenever the former Havemeyer or Domino Sugar plant site comes into view. It is being redeveloped as a residential structure – more luxury condos for the children of the rich to dwell within. The question of what will happen to these structures when NYC slides backwards into an era of degeneracy and decay is one few ask.

Any historian will tell you that it’s a cyclical thing here in the megalopolis, one that flips back and forth on a roughly forty year cycle which can be directly correlated to rates of crime, and that the City’s current upswing began in the late 1990’s – reversing a decline process that started shortly after the Second World War.

Rich people tend to move away from the City center when things get hairy. The rest of us are kind of stuck here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Williamsburg is officially lost as a point of interest for me. Bland boxes of steel and glass will extend all along the East River soon enough, stretching from the former industrial heartland once called “America’s Workshop” in Long Island City all the way through the Gold Coast of North Brooklyn to the Williamsburg Bridge. Criminals are already beginning to focus their attentions on this area, just as they did in the age of industry. Why? Because predators go where the prey is.

It’s cliché to even comment on it anymore, one realizes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scenes long familiar, lost. The wilderness of the oligarchs is upon us, and deep in the woods – wolves howl to celebrate and delight. The nobles will be safe in their keeps, but the peasants – we’re on our own.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 2nd, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek – Bushwick & Mapeth Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 27, 2015 at 12:43 pm

fully inanimate

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Hanging out at Hallets Cove, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having nothing especially pressing, on a recent and quite cloudy afternoon, a general scuttle was enacted to go out and “see what Queens wants to show me today.” My footsteps carried me to Hallets Cove, where the ancient mouth of Sunswick Creek lies forever buried beneath the folly of progress. One decided to pay some attention to the local fauna, and then find a private spot where the elimination of metabolic waste water might go unobserved by the surrounding human infestation. Such unfortunate consequences of my consciousness residing in a biological organism notwithstanding, the age old question of NYC once again arose and bedeviled.

Why is there no place to pee in New York? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC plans for everything in excruciating detail, and employs armies of academics and consultants to study the citizenry in the name of accuracy and scientific methods. I’ve met people who can tell me how much water I use, trash Our Lady directs me to carry to the curb, and predict my usage of the subway system based on geography and income levels. There are officials who can hazard a pretty good guess about the month and year you are likely to die in, barring accidents. They also have good figures for the probability of accidents.

The one thing which they can’t seem to figure out is the deployment, and maintenance, of a few piss buckets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eastwards of Greece, you start seeing a different form of public toilet than the ones we see in the affluent Western countries – what is known as a squat toilet. The system boils down to a cess pool or sewer connection with a goose neck drain that breaks the surface at a tiled hole in the ground with two raised blocks of concrete on either side. The name “squat toilet” describes how you use it. These are ubiquitous in the East, as they are FAR cheaper to install and maintain than our western porcelain. Over at Barge Park in Greenpoint, a recent “comfort station” cost better than a million bucks.

I’m not asking for “comfort stations.” How about three walls and a hole in the floor to piss in?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC has a “one percent for art” requirement baked into all of its municipal construction projects, which is how the Newtown Creek Nature Walk was funded. May I suggest we create a similar requirement stating that NYC must budget “one percent to acknowledge human biological functions” into future endeavors? Wouldn’t this be better than having to find some retail establishment which will allow you to use their facilities, or pissing against the wall of some innocent party?

Maybe we can cook it into a deal with future commercial and residential developments that they would be required to build and maintain publicly available facilities for elimination of bodily waste as part of the cost of doing business in the City Of Greater New York?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What do I know, though? One such as myself does not claim to possess advanced degrees in Urbanism or City Planning. I mean, everything that such professionals have done over the years has worked out perfectly. Why would actual community need figure into development plans and the march of progress?

I’m probably just full of shit, but the lack of public bathrooms in the City of New York pisses me off.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 7th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

June 11th, 2015
MADE IN BROOKLYN Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

staggered dizzily

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Sights from a recent East River excursion, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not get to view Mighty Triborough from the water that often, although the Astoria Park perspective on Robert Moses’ great bridge is familiar and loved, so while onboard a boat carrying the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s annual conference, one ensured that a few shots were captured of its majesty. Moses was a gigantic jerk and a bit of a tyrant, of course, but on more than one occasion I have remarked on the particular esthetic charms his teams incorporated into their projects. The bath houses at Riis Park, and Jones Beach, the bridge pictured above – modern day planners are driven by economy and “design standards” which strip their civil works of the sort of visual panache that the depression era build outs offered. Far better than the brutalist crap of the 1960’s and 70’s which were inflicted on the public, of course, but modernity is not even close to being in the same artistic league with the earlier stuff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of earlier stuff, the annihilation of the Domino Sugar site in Williansburg continues. Recently, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were obliged to make an appearance at a 20 something year old’s birthday bacchanal at a bar in the former “Bushwick Strand,” and coversation with a member of the “Millennial” generation ended up being revelatory. This particular kid realized fully that the lifestyle and “scene” in Williamsburg was not just threatened but doomed by the large scale construction underway in the area, and she was wondering what life would be like in my beloved Astoria. One intoned that Astoria would make a great home for an older iteration of herself, when “going out” would indicate that you were going to have dinner at a restaurant rather than spending the night at a fashionable bar. Her section of North Brooklyn is for the young and unsettled transients struggling to define themselves, whereas Astoria is for families and is still very much a community of long term neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of communities, the staggering growth of Hunters Point over the last five years is best realized from the East River. A humble narrator has been shooting the growing skyline here from the water for several years now, but with the Hunters Point South development finally becoming a reality, the “Modern Corridor” of Long Island City is beginning to reach critical mass. Any doubt as to why I refer to the East River frontage of LIC as “Tower Town” should be eradicated by the shot above.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

mellow gleams

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FDR Four Freedoms Park, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The recent travelogue offered here, describing a recent visit to Roosevelt Island, concludes today with a visit to the southern terminus of that East River island where the brand new FDR Four Freedoms Park is found. Originally conceived and designed by Pratt University’s Louis Kahn in 1972 and completed by Mitchell | Giurgola Architects three decades later, the park is some four acres in size and honors the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and commemorates the “Four Freedoms” speech he offered the nation in 1941.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roosevelt was, of course, the 32nd President of these United States, after having served as the 44th Governor of New York State (amongst other jobs including appointments like Assistant Secretary of the Navy and lower elected offices). The convoluted history of how this park got built, a process which stretched out over three decades, is not what this post will attempt to describe – I would suggest a trip over to wikipedia for the whole story of that one. Suffice to say that a whole lot of money and ego found their way into the masonry of this place. Pictured above is a list of the various donors who financially supported the place, which reads like a “who’s who” of NYC’s modern day Real Estate and Non Profit Industrial Complexes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The park itself is quite an interesting spot, and quite reminiscent of other modern monuments. A series of massing shapes set at an angle against the horizon, with leading lines and sparse plantings. The grand entrance offers a set of shallow steps at its entrance. Unfortunately, or not, my arrival at the Park was in the mid afternoon during the month of December, a time of year when the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself hangs languid and wan in the winter sky offering little warmth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Instinct often carries me off to the less traveled side, but whenever one visits a “grand design” for the first time an attempt is made to follow the path intended. Knees groaning, one climbed the relatively short flight of steps, stepping over the inscribed names of the donors. This carried me to the apex of the stairway, and the main plaza of the place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The leading sight lines are directed at a monumental bust found at the extreme south end of the park, but I couldn’t help but notice that what it was pointing directly at was east 23rd street’s East River “Gas Light district” frontage near Stuyvesant Town, and those brutalist residential towers found between 24th and 30th streets. An odd coincidence, given the less than friendly relationship of the Roosevelt family with the Rockefellers (Stuyvesant Town was a Rockefeller project).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The true monument to FDR happens to be across the river in Manhattan, a building which also happens to be a Rockefeller project, the United Nations Building. Famously, Eleanor Roosevelt was a primal factor in the creation of the global congress. I’m sort of a fanboy for Eleanor Roosevelt, incidentally, and am always reminded of one of her many, many quotable lines – “we all do better when we’re all doing better” during the recitation of modern political discourse by present day ideologues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An odd choice in statuary, the floating bust of Roosevelt seems sad. In his lifetime, the man went out of his way to always appear chipper and smiling in public. Reticence seems to be the mood projected by this object, tinged with regret, and it’s based on portraits of the President from late in his life. This is the face of a man who had just commissioned the construction of two atomic bombs, rather than the countenance of the man who delivered one of the primal speeches of the 20th century that defined “the American way.”

Tomorrow, which is Festivus by the way, some of the things recently witnessed over in the Shining City of Manhattan.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2014 at 11:42 am

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