The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan

victoriously swept

leave a comment »

If the bridge wasn’t there, it would be impossible to recognize Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mephitic vapors, the effluent of furnaces and forges, a vague scent of molasses, and the smell of freshly smoked crack cocaine used to be all you needed to recognize where you were when visiting Williamsburg. These days, all you’ve got is the visual cue offered by its eponymous bridge and the vague scent of high end Marijuana.

Occasion found me in the ancient village, and as I was headed for Manhattan to meet up with a boat later in the day, a scuttle across the bridge was called for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lot of people think this span is an architectural travesty, but I’ve never thought it was bad enough to to create a Municipal Arts Society over. There are “separate” pedestrian and bicycle paths, which aren’t really segregated from each other in any cohesive manner, but as one such as myself enjoys playing things “by the rules” – I found myself climbing the surprisingly steep ramp leading up from Brooklyn to the bridge itself. At least it provides for some fairly good “cardio.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in art school, the conventional wisdom imparted to me by a generation of instructors was that you can’t go wrong when there’s an umbrella in your shot. The reasoning is that the umbrella is an inherently interesting shape, and it breaks up the otherwise pedestrian points of view one normally encounters. It wasn’t raining, of course, and the umbrella was simply there to shield its wielder from the particularly powerful emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself whose gaze seemed fixed upon the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All the tourists seem to flock to the Brooklyn Bridge, and its pedestrian path offers one a frustrating and crowded experience. It’s a bit like a lunch line at a buffet, that walk, a slow shuffle while trapped in a queue. Vast preference for the less popular bridges like Queensboro, Williamsburg, and Manhattan is offered by your humble narrator. Crowds suck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For this walk, I used my “crappy lens” – a 70-300 consumer level zoom. After the great camera disaster of July, wherein both camera body and my “best lens” were destroyed, I’ve been making it a point of mixing things up a bit. Thanks to many of you who donated money for replacement equipment to this blog, and both body and “best lens” have been replaced. Regardless, one tries to keep things fresh and the extra reach which the imperfect but serviceable “long lens” provides for slightly different perspectives and color rendition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It would be utterly pedantic to go into the technical details on this subject, so suffice to say that each and every lens interprets the light moving through it in different ways. Certain lenses are great for portraits, others for landscapes. Camera settings can also affect color rendition as well – for instance, narrow apertures render the color blue in a certain way due to the clipping of upper and lower limits found in the blue light wave.

As I said, technical and pedantic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge, at Delancey Street, and looking back towards the infinity of Brooklyn.

The Williamsburg Bridge is 7,308 feet long (measuring between the cable anchor terminals) and the deck is some 118 feet wide. The height at the center of the bridge is 135 feet and each tower is 310 feet in height as measured from the East River’s high-water mark. It was originally called East River Bridge #3 when opened in 1903. Its architect was Henry Hornbostel, and the chief engineer who oversaw its construction was Leffert L. Buck.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

curious pacts

with 2 comments

The great anniversary, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It all started in the Belgian Congo, over in Africa, when a fellow named Robert Rich Sharp discovered the deposit near a little town called Shinkolobwe.

The Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a Belgian Mining Company, assumed control over the resource and began to refine the material into something useful. It was something unique, this mineral deposit at Shinkolobwe, and the mine was soon producing ore materials that were 65% pure. Other global deposits of the stuff, discovered and exploited later in the 20th century, were considered major finds if they held 5% pure ore, and Shinkolobwe is described as a “freak occurrence in nature” by minerologists. The Belgians owned the Congo, and UHMK held a virtual monopoly on the rare elements found within the colony. Refineries were set up in Shinkolobwe, and both the town and the mine were excised from maps and official mention.

When the Second World War broke out, Belgium fell before the German Blitzkrieg, but the UMHK had already stockpiled some 1,200 metric tonnes of refined ore in the United States. It was stored in New York City, where UMHK had warehoused it on Staten Island, beneath the Bayonne Bridge. On the 18th of September in 1942 – Edgar Sengier, the head of UMHK, had a meeting with United States General Kenneth Nichols.

Nichols purchased the 1,200 tonnes of refined uranium from the Belgian Company, which was already in America and warehoused on Staten Island, and arranged for another 300 tonnes of the stuff to be shipped across the Atlantic from Shinkolobwe for usage by the War Department of the United States. This transaction ultimately caused the death of some 66,000 people, and the maiming of at least 70,000 more, a scant three years later on this day in 1945. Thousands more died on the 9th, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The military project General Nichols represented was started in 1939, eventually employing more than 130,000 people and costing nearly US $2 billion (about $26 billion in 2015 dollars). There were four known major deposits of the precious ore in 1940: one in Colorado, one in northern Canada, Joachimstal in Czechoslovakia, and Shinkolobwe in the Belgian Congo. Joachimstal was in German hands. The Canadian and American deposits were quickly nationalized, and the Congo mother lode was soon held firmly by British interests.

Across North America, dozens of industrial plants were built and got to work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

History is full of “what if’s.” What if Charlemagne had refused the title of Holy Roman Emperor? What if John III Sobieski didn’t break the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683? What if Chingis Khan had never invaded the Middle East? What if the Japanese Empire didn’t attack Pearl Harbor and force the United States into the Second World War? One can speculate…

Eventually, the U.S. would have intervened in Europe. Simply put, the English and French owed billions in war debts from the First World War to American banks, and the U.S.A would have been forced to intervene simply to protect its interests. The Pacific was considered an American and British lake back then, and the Phillipines were a de facto American colony in the 1930’s – so it was only a matter of time before the Japanese Empire and the United States would find themselves in one conflict or another.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the European Powers, the Japanese understood what “total war” meant in the age of industry. Their miraculous conversion, in just one century, from Medieval backwater to industrial superpower had already resulted in Japanese forces utterly dominating and annihilating both German and Russian armies in one sided conflicts. Their naval strength was staggering, and by the 1930’s their armies made short work of capturing the infinite resources of China. Pearl Harbor was meant to be a decapitating blow, clipping the Eagle’s wings.

There are mistakes in history, blunders of epic scale, and Pearl Harbor ranks up there with the Khwarazm Shah telling Chingis Khan to go fuck himself. The America that the Japanese empire attacked wasn’t the one we know today, full of soul searching and unsure of itself – rather it was the country which had produced Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and especially John D. Rockefeller.

It had also produced Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, whom General Kenneth Nichols worked for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ore purchased from the Union Minière du Haut Katanga by General Kenneth Nichols, which was scratched out of the earth in the Belgian Congo’s Shinkolobwe mine and stored in a warehouse on Staten Island, was uranium. The United States of America used that ore to refine and produce Plutonium in a massive industrial complex which it built in just six years. On September 18th, 1942 – the fate of two Japanese cities was sealed when the ore came passed into the hands of the Manhattan Project, which came to fruition on August 6th in 1945.

Seventy years ago today – a device named Little Boy carried that ore, mined from Shinkolobwe and stored in Staten Island, over a city called Hiroshima in Japan.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2015 at 11:30 am

evil design

leave a comment »

Getting around town, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator’s antipathy towards entering the rat infested bunkers of sweating concrete that underlie the megalopolis has been fully explored in prior posts at this, your Newtown Pentacle. What are you going to do, though? There’s really only one truly economical way to get around in our city, and the subway is it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You could drive, I suppose, but one such as myself lives a mere three stops out from the City center, and cannot imagine bearing the costs and pain in the neck that maintaining an automobile would entail. My solution has always been to rent a car when I need one, which is not that often. It’s an expensive caprice, but no where even close to paying annual insurance, gas, and paying for the inevitable parking tickets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been making a dedicated effort to use the MTA bus system in the last year, as many of the places which I’m headed for in Queens are not served by the Subway system (or if they are, I have to loop through all of Manhattan to get there from Astoria). For instance, getting to Ridgewood, a distance of less than 6 miles from Astoria, would necessitate a 50 minute ride on the M which would visit most of Manhattan and a significant chunk of North Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Far and away, my favorite form of transit are the ferries, and in particular the giant orange ones. East River Ferry has ironed out a lot of the kinks in their service in the last year, btw, and there’s now a smart phone app which publishes a schedule and anticipated times of arrival at the various landings. You can also purchase tix via the app. The big orange boat is free, incidentally, and is amongst other things – the most popular tourist destination in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One would enjoy using the rich man’s preferred mode of transit, if only as a diversion, but this mode of transportation is ridiculously expensive – something like $2,000 per hour.

The best way to see NYC is on foot, of course.

This Sunday, I’ll be leading a walking tour of the eastern side of Newtown Creek for Newtown Creek Alliance, btw. Tix are still available, see the links below for more info.

“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

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2015 at 12:29 pm

in connection with

with one comment

Subway fever dreams, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself generally doesn’t recall the hallucinations which occur during those dark hours when biological imperatives overcome and consciousness is lost. At least once per day, but more often than not – at night – a sudden wave of fatigue drowns out all other motivations and I find myself lapsing into a death like state which is accompanied by wild visions. I cannot tell you what happens during these intervals, which can sometimes consume a third of any day. Perhaps this is why I maintain the presence of an ever present and watchful dog, who on more than one occasion has pulled me out of this state when danger approaches with her ululating vocalizations. This daily failing is excaberated when my biological functions are impeded or hampered by injury, or some bacterial or viral infection.

A wild gyre occurs during these spells, with thoughts unrestrained by physics and possibility. My conscious mind rejects all remembrance of these visions upon reawakening. This is certainly true of any hallucination which might be deemed “pleasant.” It is only the terrors of the night which persist into the sunlit hours. A recent injury to the fleshy stalk upon which my head is mounted resulted in a series of Subway oriented visions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One recurring hallucination took the form of an endless Subway trip. Transfers and long distances occur, but one never seems to get to a destination. When the trains pull into unknown stations, the exits and stairs are always boarded up. Usually these barriers were adorned by signage warning about the presence of some sort of airborn toxin, as indicated by the skull and crossbones iconography which one does not immediately associate with a MTA logo, and were one to walk up the steps to the surface a dire fate awaited.

One is always given the impression that something terrible has happened to the world above, and the Subway is improbably the only safe place remaining.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my nocturnal phantasmagories featured entire Subway trains traveling on the R line – the R stood for “Refugee” – which had been converted over to shelter dwellings. The trains were kept moving so as to avoid undue exposure to whatever might be mingling with the dust of desiccated rat droppings and fungal spores in the station atmosphere.

At certain stations, this Refugee train did not stop, as the platforms were crowded with ragged caricatures of the human form – desperately clawing at the moving metal and glass surfaces, and seeking entry into the traveling refugee village. Making matters worse, the car which this scenario played out in was populated by at least three Korean street ministers, who my fellow travelers and I would have gladly fed to any cannibal mob.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another hallucinatory vision saw a Q train which never exited the subterranean tunnels nor encountered any station, crawling along in an obsequious and onbnoxiously slow fashion. This train provided no shelter from the infestation of human survivors however. Instead, the Q stood for “Quarantine” and all of my fellow riders were suffering from some sort of hemorrhagic fever.

The image which quietly withstood the regaining of consciousness early the next morning was that of a Subway train filled, ankle deep, with blood and gore.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another horrible imagining occurred just as the healing process within the ruggose tube that supports my head began, one wherein a long Subway ride was experienced in a car in which your humble narrator was the only occupant that wasn’t a busker or street performer.

One was surrounded by Mariachi’s and those teams of acrobatic dancing youths, and along with them were accordionists and the “if anyone is hungry, I’ve got sandwiches” people. One sat at the center of a pulsing crowd of perfomers and prosletizers, as the street ministers and clipboard volunteers were along as well. Several members of lesser cults, seperatists, and joiners were also present. All thrust dirty plastic cups at me, asking for a dollar or two.

In one corner of the train, a hipster girl filmed the scene on an iPhone, in a somewhat disaffected manner. She’d seen it all before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Always, the rays of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself interrupts these bizarre hallucinations, rousing me from the comatose and back to a world of harsh reality. At the end of my recent infirmity, one hallucination was running full bore when I awoke in a cold sweat with a rapidly beating heart.

I travelled through the City’s intestinal crevasses, and encountered another dreamer who informed me that my whole life had, in fact, been what they had been having nightmares of since childhood. This person had been suppressing me with psychiatric care, and a schedule of narcotic drugs. After having directly encountered my personage, this person – an amiable Spaniard – decided to kill himself forthwith. Sometimes I have that effect on people, I guess.

I wondered – and more than wondered – can all of this reality of ours simply be someone’s, or some thing’s, dream? Is there something out there, which lies not dead but dreaming?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms – Greenpoint, Brooklyn Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

… down there?

with 3 comments

Second Avenue Subway, 72nd to 86th street, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As detailed in several posts last week, with today’s offering as capstone, I was invited to join with a group of photographers and reporters on a walk through of Phase One of th Second Avenue Subway project with MTA President of Capital Construction Michael Horodniceanu. We entered the project at 63rd street, and walked all the way to 86th street, experiencing differing levels of “finish” as we went.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A constant issue encountered was the presence of other people, which bedevils me wherever I go, and efforts were made to move slowly and find myself at the rear of the group in order to attain “clean shots” of the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

86th street was far and away the least developed section we encountered, and work on the actual tracked hadn’t progressed much past foundations. Platforms were still under construction as well. When invited to come along, MTA personnel had warned that at the end of the trip, we would have to “climb a 130 step staircase.” One was a bit worried about the “climb” designation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As it turns out, I was right to worry about that word “climb.” Some anonymous laborer had scrawled the graffito “heart attack ridge” on the temporary landing and by the time a humble narrator had achieved that height, a heart attack felt like it was a real possibility. As my grandmother would have said – I couldn’t stop shvitzing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nevertheless, I plodded up the steps with camera gear in tow, while wearing my heavy steel toe boots and “PPE.” At the landing, all of us old guys decided to take a breather.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A construction worker in his mid twenties admonished us that he did this flight of stairs several times a day, which tells you about the sort of fortitude it takes to wear a hard hat. Insult to injury was added when Donna Hanover came bounding up the stairs like a mountain goat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back at the surface, one avoided the Q&A section of the trip, and a hasty retreat back to Queens and my beloved Astoria was enacted. I had a speaking engagement on for the evening, discussing the Sunnyside Yards development plans with the United Forties Civic over on the Woodside/Sunnyside border, and needed to get home and shower off all the concrete dust and “shvitz.”

Tomorrow, something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“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 1, 2015 at 11:00 am

… buried…

with 3 comments

Second Avenue Subway, beyond 72nd street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing with the image rich posts detailing a recent visit to the MTA’s audacious Second Avenue Subway construction project in today’s post, the shot above depicts a group of laborers installing rebar in a side chamber.  Everywhere you looked, there were crews of union guys busily doing this and that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We visited the switch and signal room, where vast banks of electronic controls were in varying stages of completion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An enormous antechamber, of cyclopean scale, was encountered. This section was open to the sky, and that giant blue thing at the right hand corner of the shot was a crane which transports materials from the surface to the chasm below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the north end of the 72nd street station, we encountered actual customer facing areas, where commuters will be found in a few years. This was also where we began to fully appreciate the monumental scale of all this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MTA’s Michael Horodniceanu, who was our guide, assured the group that we wouldn’t have to climb the temporary wooden staircase he was posing against. A collective sigh of relief rose audibly from the group of photographers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The construction guys were running up and down the breastworks, which I believe were the place where long escalators would be installed to ferry passengers to and from the station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Northward, we continued moving through the construction site, and one paused for a moment to grab a shot of the chamber we had just exited.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Around 73rd or 74th street, the group was brought back together (we were all sort of trailing out by this point) and informed that we would be walking the final section of tracks – from 72nd to 86th – and then a Q&A session would be occurring once we regained the surface.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section was still very much under construction, and both temperature and humidity had risen a bit – no doubt due to the curing of freshly poured concrete all around us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were directed towards the uptown tube.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Monday’s post, we’ll finish out what I saw and experienced down in the guts of Manhattan at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

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

May 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

…that might be…

leave a comment »

From somewhere under Manhattan, the Second Avenue Subway Series continues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were work lights arrayed within the deep, pushing back against the enveloping darkness. Happily, they were polychromatic, and provided one with an interesting series of contrasts. Additionally, a flash gun was employed in the capture of some of these images, an evil necessitated by lighting conditions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of track, which had been continuously installed in the tunnels from our starting point at 63rd street, led into a complex of chambers which will one day be the 72nd street station. One noticed that electrical equipment was already installed. This spot would likely be around 70th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The design of the Second Avenue Subway passenger stations is distinct from the older sections of the system, there were no steel beams hanging down from the ceiling for instance. The stations take the shape of a series of flattened cylinders with cathedral like interiors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The gaggle of photographers and press people whom one had joined were directed to follow the tracks as we walked north, more than 100 feet below the surface of the Shining City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In this section, the roadbed hadn’t been installed yet, and prefabricated sections of the tracks were simply placed. Notice the rebar nest underlying the sections, into which concrete will be pumped, which will provide the firm footing for the river of trains which will flow through here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My strategy of staying at the back of the group paid off several times, this shot is looking southward towards the section we had just traversed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual 72nd street, lower level, station appeared. There’s that rack thingamabob pointed out at the 63rd street station, which is designed to allow water to flow without destroying the “finish” tiles which will be attached to it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The group was directed to climb the stairs up to the upper level.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is where the scale of this project really began to come into view.

More Second Avenue Subway walk through shots in tomorrow’s post at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

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

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

May 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,122 other followers

%d bloggers like this: