The Newtown Pentacle

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Christmas!

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More Christmas, more.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this neatly dressed Nativity scene over on Houston and Sullivan (I think St. Anthony’s?) recently. Seemed appropriate fair for the day, but what do I know? I grew up Jewish and Christmas Day is when we would go the New China Inn on Flatbush Avenue for Lo Mein.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

grotesquely gnarled

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in a prior posting– certain anonymous parties had contacted me about- and a meeting at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan was arranged- to discuss and finally gain possession of information which would lead to a certain location in First Calvary Cemetery which has denied all attempts at discovery.

Arriving at the venerable church early, however, the individual with whom this appointment was arranged arrived with confederates of a seeming rough character, and the notion that I had stumbled into some sort of conspiratorial snare of malign intent terrified me. Your humble narrator fell into “one of my states”, and the scene was fled in a stuporous panic.

Several hours later, when able to recompose myself, it was discovered that the memory card of my camera was nearly full, and this is the second of a series of postings attempting to reconcile the hundreds of photos I found with my episode of “missing time”.

from wikipedia

Missing time is a proposed phenomenon reported by some people in connection with close encounters with UFOs and abduction phenomena. The term missing time refers to a gap in conscious memory relating to a specific period in time. The gap can last from several minutes to several days in length. The memory of what happened during the missing time reported is often recovered through hypnosis or during dreams.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Based on the series of photos, it is presumed that my route took me down Mulberry on a southern declination, before turning east on Kenmare and ultimately to Delancey. The warren of streets which defy and predate the Manhattan grid, which is two centuries old this year– I would add- have been massively altered from their historic patterns by the attentions of urban planners and DOT engineers since the time of the Bloody Sixth Ward.

Partially, this was to accommodate the “automobile city” of the early 20th century, but no small effort was spared to eliminate the alleyways and so called “courts” which denied easy policing and access by fire and sanitation inspectors in this region of the Shining City.

It was in these courts and alleys that the street gangs of the 19th century were allowed to fester and swell, an offensive and dangerous situation to the progressives and reformers of the post civil war era “City Beautiful”.

from wikipedia

The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy concerning North American architecture and urban planning that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of using beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. The philosophy, which was originally associated mainly with Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. allegedly promoted beauty not for its own sake, but rather to create moral and civic virtue among urban populations. Advocates of the philosophy believed that such beautification could thus promote a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My trusty camera seems to have been pointed in the direction of the 2nd of the three East River Bridges to have been erected, which we know as the Williamsburg. 100 years ago, I might have boarded a street car or horse drawn wagon to carry me over the span and boarded it at Bowery and Delancey. Were I cognizant of my surroundings, rather than stumbling in a panic, I might have caught an electric light rail- which is referred to as a “subway”- but instead and inexorably I marched forward into “Jewtown”.

from HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES By JACOB A. RIIS, courtesy google books

THE tenements grow taller, and the gaps in their ranks close up rapidly as we cross the Bowery and, leaving Chinatown and the Italians behind, invade the Hebrew quarter. Baxter Street, with its interminable rows of old clothes shops and its brigades of pullers-in—nicknamed “the Bay ” in honor, perhaps, of the tars who lay to there after a cruise to stock up their togs, or maybe after the “schooners” of beer plentifully bespoke in that latitude— Bayard Street, with its synagogues and its crowds, gave us a foretaste of it. No need of asking here where we are. The jargon of the street, the signs of the sidewalk, the manner and dress of the people, their unmistakable physiognomy, betray their race at every step. Men with queer skull-caps, venerable beard, and the outlandish long-skirted kaftan of the Russian Jew, elbow the ugliest and the handsomest women in the land. The contrast is startling. The old women are hags; the young, houris. Wives and mothers at sixteen, at thirty they are old. So thoroughly has the chosen people crowded out the Gentiles in the Tenth Ward that, when the great Jewish holidays come around every year, the public schools in the district have practically to close up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The politics of modern city dwellers prefers not to attach ethnic sobriquets to neighborhoods where any single population crowds out other mention anymore, but in the 19th century no such prohibition applies. Early subway maps refer to this section of Delancey east of the Bowery as “the Ghetto” for instance. Such description signifies the magnetic appeal of the tenement neighborhood to the vast Yiddish speaking populations which made good their escape from the “the Pale” in the 19th century.

These largely weren’t the Orthodox Jews of today, of course, as the Hasidic and Lubavitcher sects – typified by an outdated style of dress and clannish separation from their surrounding environs – are a fairly modern path which only began to gather real steam in the 19th century (just like most fundamentalist religions) and in the 20th century these groups still represent only a tiny fraction of the larger ethnic population.

Instead the majority were religious but secular peasants from the countryside, suddenly finding themselves in New York City living next door to a sophisticated citizen from the Austro Hungarian- or Russian- or Ottoman- empires. It was these transplanted urbanites who founded the Forverts and other Yiddish language newspapers.

from wikipedia

The Forward (Yiddish: פֿאָרווערטס; Forverts), commonly known as The Jewish Daily Forward, is a Jewish-American newspaper published in New York City. The publication began in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily issued by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel DeLeon. As a privately-owned publication loosely affiliated with the Socialist Party of America, Forverts achieved massive circulation and considerable political influence during the first three decades of the 20th Century. The publication still exists as a weekly news magazine in parallel Yiddish (Yiddish Forward) and English editions (The Jewish Daily Forward).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The synagogues of Eastern and Southern Europe which have survived into modernity have all the appearances of a fortified house or town, and go to some lengths to blend into the surrounding communities. In the United States, however, the desire to show off and build a palace to the almighty was not limited to the Catholics or Episcopalians. Such aspirations were present amongst the Jews as well.

On the corner of Delancey and Forsyth one may find the former “Forsyth Street Synagogue, Poel Zedek Anshei Illia (Doers of Good, People of Illia)“. In modernity, it serves as a place of worship for the Seventh Day Adventists, which grew out of the millennialist Millerites in the years following the “Great Disappointment” 1844.

from wikipedia

October 22, 1844, that day of great hope and promise, ended like any other day to the disappointment of the Millerites. Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some Millerites continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium, the “Great Sabbath”, and that, therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud, and must be prayed down. Probably the majority however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives. Some members rejoined their previous denominations while a substantial number became Quakers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An unknown structure to me, online accounts describe it as having passed from Hebraic hands during the long 20th century decline of the neighborhood and speak of its resurrection when it began to serve as a church to some of modern Christianity’s more charismatic adherents. It is odd to see the Mogen David bisected by the rood outside of the esoteric or gnostic traditions.

Delancey street, I would mention, always figured prominently in the adages and folkloric warnings that my grandmother would hand out when I was a young but already humble narrator. A product of the Pale herself, she found work in America in that jewish garment trade which once flourished here, and even into extreme old age she practiced her craft. She always referred to Delancey and the environs as a home to midwives and fortune tellers (kabbalists) and shmata men.

When queries as to how lucrative the shmata (rag) trade was, and who could possibly need enough rags to keep a merchant employed full time- her response was “vat doz yu tink yu viped yur arse mit? Dere vas no terlet papah beck den”.

from wikipedia

Adventism is a Christian movement which began in the 19th century, in the context of the Second Great Awakening revival in the United States. The name refers to belief in the imminent Second Coming (or “Second Advent”) of Jesus Christ. It was started by William Miller, whose followers became known as Millerites. Today, the largest church within the movement is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Adventist family of churches are regarded today as conservative Protestants. While they hold much in common, their theology differs on whether the intermediate state is unconscious sleep or consciousness, whether the ultimate punishment of the wicked is annihilation or eternal torment, the nature of immortality, whether or not the wicked are resurrected, and whether the sanctuary of Daniel 8 refers to the one in heaven or on earth. The movement has encouraged the examination of the New Testament, leading them to observe the Sabbath.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncertainty exists in my mind as to whether or not my trance induced scuttling and the photographic record thereof bears any kind of narrative thread or not. It would seem that my subject matter and focal point of view remained steady with normal pursuits, chasing esoteric and disabused touchstones of the oft occluded past, and noticing the small details hidden amongst the centuries old tapestry.

One wonders if I might have wandered into this storefront psychic and what Gypsy legend would have been offered. Perhaps I did, but in my trance state, who can venture as to what might have occurred in the moments between photos?

from wikipedia

Romani mythology is the myth, folklore, religion, traditions, and legends of the Romani people (also known as Gypsies). The Romanies are a nomadic culture which originated in India during the Middle Ages. They migrated widely, particularly to Europe. Some legends (particularly from non-Romani peoples) say that certain Romanies are said to have passive psychic powers such as, empathy, precognition, retrocognition, or psychometry. Other legends include the ability to levitate, travel through astral projection by way of meditation, invoke curses or blessings, conjure/channel spirits, and skill with illusion-casting.

Burial: Romanies pushed steel or iron needles into the body’s heart and put pieces of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears, and between the fingers. Hawthorn was placed on the legs, or driven through the legs. They would also drive stakes, pour boiling water on the grave, and behead or burn the body. All this preparation was to ward off vampires.

Afterlife: Romanies had a concept of Good and Evil forces. Dead relatives were looked after loyally. The soul enters a world like the world of the living, except that death does not exist. The soul lingers near the body and sometimes wants to live again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The River of Sound awaited, and a vast steel span was to be crossed.

Tomorrow is Williamsburg, where Brooklyn’s Grand Street will be attained and the puzzling series of shots found on my camera card will be further explored at this… Your Newtown Pentacle.

from medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com

compulsive walking

affected animals walk oblivious to their surroundings. They appear to be blind, walk into objects, headpress against them and stay in this position for long periods, are oblivious to danger and may die of misadventure. They may attempt to climb a wall and fall over backwards. Common causes are hepatic encephalopathy and increased intracranial pressure.

unending steps

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

By email, I was contacted by a personage who claimed that the long desired location of a certain interment at First Calvary Cemetery in Queens- the burial site of “he who must not be named“- was in his possession. Further, it was asserted that while anonymity and certain other odd conditions were required, the occluded information so long sought would be mine for the taking.

A meeting was hastily arranged at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Manhattan’s Mulberry street, and your humble narrator scuttled off to the Bloody Sixth Ward and the House of Dagger John.

What greeted me was not to my liking.

from saintpatrickscathedral.org

The recent elevation of New York as an Episcopal see with its own bishop inspired the increasing Catholic population to build the original Cathedral of New York under the name of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. The site chosen belonged to the corporation of Saint Peter’s Church and was located on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan. The cornerstone was laid in June 1809.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is habit and curse, an early arrival was attempted and achieved, and a hidden vantage point amongst the venerable pews was attained. The odd fellow who had contacted me described his aspect and appearance accurately, and recognition was instant when he strode confidently into the ancient church. He did not arrive alone, as he had implied in his missives, however.

The disturbing aspect of his companions, leathery creatures best described as men, and the hushed instructions he seemed to be offering them, brought me to a peak of nervous excitedness and a panic set in upon me. Stupidly, I had walked directly into a spiders web, lured in by forbidden fruit.

Had some sort of diabolical plot, hatched by those malign forces whose secretive occupations and desires and unguessed at existence has been inadvertently hinted at and offended by this- your Newtown Pentacle, been set in motion to snare and silence me?

from wikipedia

Until 1830, the Cathedral was the ending place of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. After that, it ended on Ann Street at the Church of the Transfiguration, whose pastor, Father Varela, was Cuban, but was a fervent nationalist and the chaplin of the Hibernian Universal Benevolent Society. Eventually, the parade moved uptown to pass in front of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In 1836, the cathedral was the subject of an attempted sack after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing nativists led to a number of riots and other physical confrontations. The situation worsened when a brain-injured young woman wrote a book telling her “true” story – a Protestant girl who converted to Catholicism, and was then forced by nuns to have sex with priests, with the resulting children being baptized then killed horribly. Despite the book being debunked by a mildly anti-Catholic magazine editor, nativist anger at the story resulted in a decision to attack the cathedral. Loopholes were cut in the church’s outer walls, which had just recently been built, and the building was defended from the rioters with muskets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As previously described, vast physical inadequacy and cowardice are my hallmarks. The least of all men, my only recourse is flight, and I seem to have descended into some sort of fugue state.

I remember leaving the sepulchral darkness and unnatural cool of the old Cathedral, but from the moment that the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself shone upon me, it’s a total blank.

My next conscious memory is that of having arrived back at HQ in Astoria some hours later with blistered feet and chafed thighs, and an odd crusty residue around my eyes reminiscent of the dehydrated tears which adorn the occulum of a recently awakened sleeper.

During this multi hour episode, I seem to have been taking hundreds of pictures as I scuttled instinctually and inexorably homeward.

I’ve pieced my somnambulist route together from the shots on my camera card and for some reason, seemed to be subconsciously following an ancient street car route, the one that went to Calvary via Williamsburg as I later scried.

from bklyn-genealogy-info.com

In 1850 a line of two horse stages was running from Grand Street ferry past the Dutch Church on the Old Woodpoint Road out to Newtown. Grape arbors extended from Leonard Street to Humboldt Street.

Martin J. SUYDAM ran a stage from Peck Slip and Grand Street. Ferries through Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue to Newtown.

The Grand Street and Newtown Railroad Co., was chartered in 1860. At the foot of the street was the office of the Houston Street Ferry Association and later of the Nassau Ferry Co. A long wooden stairway led from the ferry to the American Hotel, latter, #2 & 4, kept by Jackson HICKS.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some sort of odd symmetry presents itself, of course, in this dreamt of photowalk. The vast numbers who lie within the emerald devastations of Laurel Hill made the same journey themselves, although most did not take the Williamsburg Bridge- rather a connecting ferry and streetcar line which would have joined some forgotten 19th century Manhattan pierage (near its own Grand Street) with the gentry of Brooklyn. Don’t forget, in the 19th century, Manhattan was a pestilential hell hole of factories and open sewers populated by a starving horde of refugees- Brooklyn was in it’s own golden age.

The Bridge didn’t come along until 1883 after all, and First Calvary was nearly full by then.

from “An East-Side Ramble” William Dean Howells Impressions and Experiences (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1896) courtesy tenant.net

I suppose there are and have been worse conditions of life, but if I stopped short of savage life I found it hard to imagine them. I did not exaggerate to myself the squalor that I saw, and I do not exaggerate it to the reader. As I have said, I was so far from sentimentalizing it that I almost immediately reconciled myself to it, as far as its victims were concerned. Still, it was squalor of a kind which, it seemed to me, it could not be possible to outrival anywhere in the life one commonly calls civilized. It is true that the Indians who formerly inhabited this island were no more comfortably lodged in their wigwams of bark and skins than these poor New-Yorkers in their tenements. But the wild men pay no rent, and if they are crowded together upon terms that equally forbid decency and comfort in their shelter, they have the freedom of the forest and the prairie about them; they have the illimitable sky and the whole light of day and the four winds to breathe when they issue into the open air. The New York tenement dwellers, even when they leave their lairs, are still pent in their high-walled streets and inhale a thousand stenches of their own and others’ making. The street, except in snow and rain, is always better than their horrible houses, and it is doubtless because they pass so much of their time in the street that the death rate is so low among them. Perhaps their domiciles can be best likened for darkness and discomfort to the dugouts or sod huts of the settlers on the great plains. But these are only temporary shelters, while the tenement dwellers have no hope of better housing; they have neither the prospect of a happier fortune through their own energy as the settlers have, nor any chance from the humane efforts and teachings of missionaries, like the savages. With the tenement dwellers it is from generation to generation, if not for the individual, then for the class, since no one expects that there will not always be tenement dwellers in New York as long as our present economical conditions endure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evidenced in the shot above, I seem to have proceeded south along Mulberry Street, past the high walls of the Old Cathedral which were erected by Dagger John and the Hibernians to protect the sanctuary from the violent attentions of Nativist rioters during those starry years when this neighborhood was known as “the bloody sixth ward”.

from History of the Second company of the Seventh regiment By Emmons Clark, courtesy google books

The Sixth Ward was noted for its disorderly character, and the frequent skirmishes which took place within its borders, with the consequent black eyes and bloody noses, gave it the well-known sobriquet,—”the Bloody Sixth.” On the first day of the election, in the spring of 1834, it was said that the anti-bank, Democratic, and Irish citizens of the Sixth Ward, had blockaded the polls and prevented the Whigs from voting. On the second day, the Whigs from other districts rallied in large numbers to the Sixth Ward, resolved to break the blockade and give their friends an opportunity to cast their ballots. The result was a series of engagements, in which both parties maintained their positions in the field until the polls closed for the day. A ship, mounted on wheels and adorned with Whig banners, was drawn through the ward, and used to convey voters to the polls, and this insulting invasion of the Democratic stronghold increased the excitement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This grand walk carried me, in a seemingly dream like state, through the lower Manhattan neighborhoods known to Dagger John and his compatriots as either “Jewtown” or “the Ghetto”, over the Bridge, into Williamsburg, through Bushwick and then Maspeth in Brooklyn and Queens respectively, into Berlin and then Blissville in the Creeklands, and ultimately Calvary Cemetery itself. Over the next few days, and from the comfort and safety of a well fortified Newtown Pentacle HQ (which sports a cadre of Croatian Varangians dedicated to my health and well being, should these malign forces decide to visit… as well as other… more esoteric defenses) I’ll be presenting the fruits of this journey. As mentioned, I somehow kept shooting the whole way.

from wikipedia

Basil II’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, led him to employ them as his personal bodyguards. This new force became known as the Varangian Guard (Greek: Τάγμα των Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn). Over the years, new recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway kept a predominantly Scandinavian cast to the organization until the late 11th century. So many Scandinavians left to enlist in the guard that a medieval Swedish law from Västergötland stated that no one could inherit while staying in “Greece”—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire. In the eleventh century, there were also two other European courts that recruited Scandinavians: Kievan Rus’ c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið). Steven Runciman, in The History of the Crusades, noted that by the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos, the Byzantine Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”. The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and after the Norman Conquest of England there were many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and looked for a living elsewhere.

Additionally, for those who might be interested in a FREE boat tour of Newtown Creek on City of Water Day – which is Saturday, July 16th- this web page bears monitoring.

Bowery Savings Bank 2010 and 1903

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Bowery Savings Bank in Manhattan during the summer of 2010.

– photo from “King’s views of New York City, A.D.1903” a public domain ebook courtesy Google Books

The Bowery Savings Bank in Manhattan in 1903.

Here’s a stitched panorama of the corner in 2010, just for the “longer” view. Click through to Flickr to see the gargantuan original.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 13, 2010 at 6:41 pm

torment of the Brachyura

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator is a carnivore, as mentioned in the past, despite a somewhat advanced state of understanding of the realities of feedlot and abattoir.

Human beings are ultimately predatory apes, and the greasy taste of flesh is prized by most. Displays of comestible items are commonly observed amongst the human hives, but when one is moving through a neighborhood whose residents enjoy exotic fare- like Manhattan’s famous Chinatown in this case – the careful observer might be rewarded with visions of the fanciful or alien.

from wikipedia

Homo Necans: the Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth is a book on ancient Greek religion and mythology by Walter Burkert, which won the Weaver Award for Scholarly Literature, awarded by the Ingersoll Foundation, in 1992. The book’s core thesis is that when paleolithic man became a hunter, in spite of the generally omnivorous orientation of the great apes, lack of a predator instinct was made up for by turning patterns of intra-species aggression against the prey: Homo necans means “man the killer”. Thus, the animal hunted by ancient man automatically acquired aspects of an equal, as if it were of one of the hunter’s relations. In a first attempt at applying ethology to religious history, Burkert confronts the power and effect of tradition in uncovering traces of ancient hunting rituals so motivated in historical animal sacrifice and human sacrifice (by his thesis unified as deriving from the same fundamental principle) in specific historical Greek rituals with relevance to human religious behaviour in general. Burkert admitted that a decisive impulse for the thesis of Homo Necans derived from Konrad Lorenz’ On Aggression (1963).

The thesis set out in the first chapter, “Sacrifice, hunting and funerary rituals”, is an extension of the hunting hypothesis, which states that hunting as a means of obtaining food was a dominant influence on human evolution and cultural development (as opposed to gathering vegetation or scavenging). The guilt incurred in the violence of the hunt was reflected in sacred crimes, which through rituals of cleansing and expiation served to unify communities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A carnivorous glutton your humble narrator may be, but empathy and indignation arose in him when confronted with this display.

Sure that this is a time tested and necessary technique intended to display the freshness and nutritional validity of this cast of crustaceans, demanded by clientele, a certain bile nevertheless rises. Western prejudice no doubt colors my point of view, as the same overt revulsion does not rise at the sight of a counter of European butchers meat.

Paradoxical, but to my reasoning, there isn’t a display of crucified and disemboweled cows overhanging the refrigerated section at the supermarket. Vegan friends would disagree, but I guess it depends on your point of view, and “Krabs ain’t Kosher” either.

from wikipedia

Crabs make up 20% of all marine crustaceans caught, farmed, and consumed worldwide, amounting to 1½ million tonnes annually. One species accounts for one fifth of that total: Portunus trituberculatus. Other commercially important taxa include Portunus pelagicus, several species in the genus Chionoecetes, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), Charybdis spp., Cancer pagurus, the Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) and Scylla serrata, each of which yields more than 20,000 tonnes annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It really was just the simple fact that the Cast of Crabs in the bushel bucket beneath this macabre marquee were subtly scuttling which disturbed me and drew this comment.

I am also aware, of course, that given the chance- those in the basket would consume those above them with abandon.

from wikipedia

The problem of animal suffering, and animal consciousness in general, arises primarily because animals have no language, leading scientists to argue that it is impossible to know when an animal is suffering. This situation may change as increasing numbers of chimps are taught sign language, although skeptics question whether their use of it portrays real understanding. Singer writes that, following the argument that language is needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain. All we can do is observe pain behavior, he writes, and make a calculated guess based on it. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued, if someone is screaming, clutching a part of their body, moaning quietly, or apparently unable to function, especially when followed by an event that we believe would cause pain in ourselves, that is in large measure what it means to be in pain.[98] Singer argues that there is no reason to suppose animal pain behavior would have a different meaning.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

Bottle Alley

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Baxter Street just past Leonard, I noticed this woman tending a little fire. She was part of a small group who were gathered at the Baxter Street side of the Mulberry Bend, where Jacob Riis described Bottle Alley. Getty Images has a watermarked preview image of the place, as photographed by Jacob Riis in 1901 here.

from wikipedia

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in Spring) and Chung Yeung Festival (in Autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Far eastern correspondent Armstrong happened to be with me this day, welcome company for my otherwise lonely walks, and informed me that this lady was burning “ghost items”- but that it was the wrong season for the Hungry Ghosts. Armstrong further iterated that someone dear to this lady had either died recently, or that it might be the anniversary of a death. Suddenly, your humble narrator remembered an enigmatic fixture observed within the section of St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria which is remarkable for the quantity of monuments which display asiatic scripts. Also, this is a photo of an offering of “ghost bucks“, also at St. Michael’s.

also from wikipedia

The Ghost Festival is celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a send-off. They have long needle-thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members offer prayers to their deceased relatives, offer food and drink and burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as an offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. The afterlife is very similar in some aspects to the material world, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.[2] Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Photography makes you rude, exposing the nosey side of your personality- the “yenta”. You’re not just prying into someone else’s life, you are actually recording it and signing your name under their moment as “photgrapher”. Perhaps you really do steal a piece of someone’s soul when you take their picture… it would certainly explain why the politicians and Mel Gibson are the way they are.

Your humble narrator, who was once actually chased across Astoria by a crowd of old Greek ladies screaming “terrorist… camera… terrorist”, has learned the best thing to do is smile and feign genuine connection when they turn around and catch me. This is hard for me- a direct interaction with a stranger- but I’ve observed how humans act, and can create a convincing simulacra of the behavior set.

I’ve been told, though, that my attempt at acting nice is rather creepy- mainly this, but mixed with some of this and a smidge of that.

from wikipedia

There are many superstitions and taboos surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival. Spirits are thought to be dangerous, and can take many forms, including snakes, moths, birds, foxes, wolves, and tigers. Some can even use the guise of a beautiful man or woman to seduce and possess. One story refers to a ghost who makes the form of a pretty girl and seduces a young man until a priest intervenes and sends the spirit back to hell. Possession can cause illness and/or mental disorders. During the 7th month children are advised (usually by an elder in the family) to be home before dark, and not to wander the streets at night for fear a ghost might possess them. Swimming is thought to be dangerous as well, as spirits are believed to have drowned people. People will generally avoid driving at night, for fear of a “collision”, or spiritual offence, which is any event leading to illness or misfortune. While “ghosts” is a common term used throughout the year, many people take on the phrase “backdoor god” or “good brother” instead so as not to anger the gods. Another thing to avoid is sampling any of the food placed on the offering table, as doing this can result in “mysterious illness”. Any person attending a show at an indoor entertainment venue (Getais) will notice the first row of chairs is left empty. These seats are reserved for the spirits, and it is considered bad form to sit in them. After an offering has been burnt to the spirits, stepping on or near the burnt area should be avoided, as it is considered an “opening” to the spirit world and touching it may cause the person to be possessed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo I’m not showing is the one after this, where this woman shot me a polite and slightly shy grin. I went on my way, hoping to minimize my intrusions, as she had ghosts that needed feeding.

from wikipedia

Yan Wang (traditional Chinese: 閻王), also called Yanluo (traditional Chinese: 閻羅) is the god of death and the sovereign of the underworld. He is also the judge of the underworld, and decides whether the dead will have good or miserable future lives. Although ultimately based on the god Yama of the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Yan Wang has developed different myths and different functions from the Hindu deity. Yan Wang is normally depicted wearing a Chinese judge’s cap in Chinese and Japanese art. He sometimes appears on Chinese Hell Bank Notes.

Guǐ (鬼) is the general Chinese term for ghost, used in combination with other symbols to give related meanings such as gweilo (鬼佬), literally “ghost man”, used to refer to white people, and mogwai (魔鬼) meaning “devil”. Derived symbols such as 魇 (chui) meaning “nightmare” also carry related meanings. There are many types of Guǐ:

  • Diào Sǐ Guǐ (吊死鬼): The ghost of someone who has been hanged, either in execution or suicide
  • Yóu Hún Yě Guǐ (游魂野鬼):
  • The wandering ghost who has died far away from his/her hometown or family, especially when his/her body and spirit haven’t been sent back to home.
  • The wandering ghost of the dead, including vengeful spirits who take their revenge, hungry ghosts and playful spirits who may cause trouble during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
  • Guǐ Pó (鬼婆): A ghost that takes the form of a kind and friendly old woman. They may be the spirits of servants who used to work for rich families, and who have returned to help around the house.
  • Nǚ Guǐ (女鬼): The ghost of a woman who has committed suicide due to some injustice such as being wronged or sexually abused. She returns to take her revenge.
  • Yuān Guǐ (冤鬼): The ghost of someone who have died a wrongful death. They roam the world of the living, depressed and restless, seeking to have their grievances redressed.
  • Shuǐ Guǐ (水鬼): The spirit of someone who drowned and continues living in the water. They attack unsuspecting victims by dragging them underwater and drowning them to take possession of the victim’s body.
  • Wú Tóu Guǐ (无头鬼): A headless ghost who roams about aimlessly.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

vital principles

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is Mosco Street, corner of Mulberry. Once upon a time, this was one of the Five Points.

from forgotten-ny.com

The notorious Old Brewery was located on Cross Street just southwest of Five Points at Anthony (now Baxter) and Orange (now Worth) Streets. It was renamed Park Street in the late 1800s. The city replaced the crowded tenements in the area partially due to the pleas of reformer Jacob Riis; the street was named for Columbus Park, which replaced the slums.

Today, Cross/Park Street, which in the 1840s had run continuously from Reade Street near Elm (now Lafayette) to Mott, has been mostly wiped out, first by Columbus Park and then by the New York County Courthouse in 1926. The last remaining section, between Mulberry and Mott Streets, was renamed Mosco Street in 1982 for Lower East Side community activist Frank Mosco.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fascinated by the municipal powers that were, this is where the other half lived, and the reason that grandparents all over Brooklyn and Queens admonished their successors to avoid “downtown”. A shudder would rifle through my own grandfather whenever the subject of dining in Chinatown or Little Italy would come up, and he wanted nothing to do with the Lower East Side. There was a reason that he settled the family in the then tony city of Brooklyn, with its vast oceanic skies and its convention of siting structures in the center of a “lot” to facilitate and provide yard space.

from r2.gsa.gov

Named for the points created by the intersection of Park, Worth, and Baxter streets, the neighborhood was known as a center of vice and debauchery throughout the nineteenth century. Outsiders found Five Points threatening and fodder for lurid prose. Describing a visit in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote: “This is the place: these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking every where with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruit here as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays. Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright in lieu of going on all-fours? and why they talk instead of grunting?”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the reputation and hazards of Manhattan’s immigrant neighborhoods, it was still a difficult endeavor to get my Grandmother and her sisters to leave the city for the “country”.

The grand nature of early 20th century architecture in the outer boroughs, as extensively commented on by our friends at Forgotten-ny and other antiquarian blogs, was necessitated by the reluctance felt by a generation of immigrants to leave “the city”. The reason that apartment houses in old LIC, and the entire East River coast of Brooklyn in fact, are so wonderfully appointed and decorated was to overcome this notion.

Migration south and east toward the Jamaica Bay, and points north and due east were also marked by distinctive and monumental structures- look at Ocean Parkway or the Grand Concourse for existing contemporaneous parables- compare with Long Island’s Sunrise Highway and the New Jersey Turnpike for modernity’s version.

from urbanography.com

When the landfill started to decay in the 1820’s the wood frame houses began to tilt over and sink. It became infested with mosquitoes and disease; the decent residents moved out, those who remained became impoverished and victims of slum lords, gangs and ruthless politicians looking for easy votes.  Personal safety was compromised and a person was in constant threat of being robbed or worse.  Beginning with the “Old Brewery” – a building that was converted to an apartment house, the floors were partitioned into small flats, rented to the poor and seedy characters.  Each room had whole families, cooking, eating, and sleeping in this one room.  It was a ghastly sight with squalid living conditions.  The same situation prevailed throughout the district – the lower floors usually for drinking, dancing, gambling, and riotous behavior.  Many people were robbed, beaten or shanghaied. In the cellars (they were called “cellar dwellers”) were the “oyster saloons,” which were kept open all night luring fresh, unsuspecting victims.  This neighborhood was a dangerous place to live in and visit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This court house, to the best of my ability to scry the past, was pretty close to the site of the famous Five Points House of Industry, which should have stood in the spot where the small tree at the center of the shot stands.

A work house in the Dickensian caste and set piece for the movie and broadway adaptations of “Lil Orphan Annie“, it was a bleached presbyterian home for wastrel children who were called “Street Arabs” by the monied middle class which was horrified by the depravity of the early capitalist system. Simply put, it was an orphanage with a built in factory wherein the kids would earn their supper. Stories of the sometimes nefarious methods used by the kids otherwise, whether street performance, or joining a gang, made such institutions seem like the only hope for the children of Five Points. Despite the denominational nature of the institution, it was operated in a non sectarian manner due to the largely catholic population it served.

from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis at wikisource

Two powerful agents that were among the pioneers in this work of moral and physical regeneration stand in Paradise Park to-day as milestones on the rocky, uphill road. The handful of noble women, who braved the foul depravity of the Old Brewery to rescue its child victims, rolled away the first and heaviest bowlder; which legislatures and city councils had tackled in vain. The Five Points Mission and the Five Points House of Industry have accomplished what no machinery of government availed to do. Sixty thousand children have been rescued by them from the streets and had their little feet set in the better way. Their work still goes on, increasing and gathering in the waifs, instructing and feeding them, and helping their parents with advice and more substantial aid. Their charity knows not creed or nationality. The House of Industry is an enormous nursery-school with an average of more than four hundred day scholars and constant boarders–“outsiders” and “insiders.” Its influence is felt for many blocks around in that crowded part of the city. It is one of the most touching sights in the world to see a score of babies, rescued from homes of brutality and desolation, where no other blessing than a drunken curse was ever heard, saying their prayers in the nursery at bedtime. Too often their white night-gowns hide tortured little bodies and limbs cruelly bruised by inhuman hands. In the shelter of this fold they are safe, and a happier little group one may seek long and far in vain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ll really need to click through to the larger incarnation of this and the following shot. These are stitched panoramas, meaning that I took a series of photos from a single point, and used photoshop to blend them together into something that would normally require an extremely wide angle lens to capture otherwise. At flickr, you can view the “all sizes” versions and see the gargantuan originals. The above image is composed of 13 fifteen megapixel images, for instance.

You’re looking at the complex of courthouses and municipal buildings which the City erected over its shame, which is referred to as Foley Square or the Civic Center in modernity. Dead center of the shot is what I believe to be the actual Five Points.

also from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis at wikisource

. . . Blocks were rented of real estate owners, or ‘purchased on time,’ or taken in charge at a percentage, and held for under-letting.” With the appearance of the middleman, wholly irresponsible, and utterly reckless and unrestrained, began the era of tenement building which turned out such blocks as Gotham Court, where, in one cholera epidemic that scarcely touched the clean wards, the tenants died at the rate of one hundred and ninety-five to the thousand of population; which forced the general mortality of the city up front l in 41.83 in 1815, to 1 in 27.33 in 1855, a year of unusual freedom from epidemic disease, and which wrung from the early organizers of the Health Department this wail: “There are numerous examples of tenement-houses in which are lodged several hundred people that have a pro rata allotment of ground area scarcely equal to two-square yards upon the city lot, court-yards and all included.” The tenement-house population had swelled to half a million souls by that time, and on the East Side, in what is still the most densely populated district in all the world, China not excluded, it was packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile, a state of affairs wholly unexampled.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This stitched panorama, which accomplishes something beyond the scope of the human visual range, is a complete circle of my vantage point on the corner of Baxter and Worth streets. Worth is at the left and far right of the composition, Baxter at the center and Columbus Park in the mid right.

from wikipedia

Foley Square is a green space in lower Manhattan, New York City. The space is formed by the intersection of Duane Street, Lafayette Street, Centre Street and Pearl Street, and — by extension — the surrounding area in lower Manhattan on the site of the historic Five Points neighborhood and is named after a prominent Tammany Hall district leader and local saloon owner, Thomas F. “Big Tom” Foley (1852-1925). Originally, the land that forms Foley Square was in the middle of Collect Pond, which was one of the original fresh water sources for the City of New York, but was drained and filled-in in 1811, by which time it had become severely polluted and implicated in typhus and cholera outbreaks.

Foley Square is dominated by its surrounding civic buildings, including the classic facades and colonnaded entrances of the 1933-built United States Courthouse, fronted by the Triumph of the Human Spirit Memorial by award-winning artist Lorenzo Pace, the New York County Supreme Court, the Church of St. Andrew, the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse (known before 2003 as the Foley Square Courthouse), where the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is based, the New York County Municipal Building, the Foley Square Federal Office Building and the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building and Court of International Trade.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

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