I like buildings that look like buildings

A few years ago, the City of New York mandated that all buildings of a certain age and of stone construction be entirely repointed. Manually, the process involves cutting each stone in a building’s facade out of its mortar setting, repositioning it, and securing it. By the time the project is complete, every stone has been touched. By continuous degrees, the building has been taken apart and put back together, with little perceptible change.

The purpose of repointing is actually to repair or strengthen the mortar joints between stones, or bricks, which wear down, crack and crumble over time, and not the stones themselves. But the term ‘repoint’ lends itself to a different concept in my imagination: I picture building blocks rotating in place, like cubical beads on a 21-story abacus, so that a new side of every stone faces out. Imagine a time-lapse video of a building being repointed, fresh stone faces appearing row by row, as though a curtain were being drawn aside.

That’s one thing about architectural restoration and building projects—their large scales and lengthy timetables aren’t often conducive to the big reveal. Take the new New Museum, which came out to society on Friday. It graced the pages of nearly every print publication, but the big moment was a bit of a letdown. The museum’s new doors wouldn’t open until Saturday, December 1st, so the publicity was weighed down by hesitation, sort of like hosting a party over the weekend when your birthday falls on a Wednesday.

On top of that, the building’s appearance came as no surprise to anyone who has wandered by the construction site since the project was commissioned in 2002. There was no curtain to draw back, no veil to whip off before a gasping audience. However, there is a time-lapse video of the ongoing construction on The New Museum’s website (note the :20-:30 second mark when the white tarps hung across the work area hint at the finished look).

Architecture as art is multi-faceted in a maddening way. Whenever I try to turn it over in my head, I fall on the same conclusion: I think of it as sculpture slash ongoing installation slash performance piece. Like a vessel, life goes on inside while a traditional masonry building (a building that looks like a building) is repointed. The New Museum, that tottering chainmail edifice on the Bowery, will begin to turn the spotlight over to guests in its galleries. Inside, change will be continuous, deliberate, anticipated, sensational. Patrons will push through the doors to see what’s behind the industrial mesh curtain.

John Muir said he never saw a discontented tree

In the Ojibwa Creation Story, the muskrat swam down into the ocean to collect a paw full of soil from somewhere far, far beneath the surface of the water. The turtle carried the soil on top of her shell, letting it spread across her back and expand to become the earth. Anable Basin, an artificial body of water dug out during the Second Industrial Revolution, does not a happy habitat make for courageous muskrats and selfless turtles today, but it has been given A Tree just the same.

A Tree for Anable Basin is a sculpture of a tree formed with a wire frame and a textured aluminum skin and “planted” on platform that will float off Hunters Point, Queens. Native plants rooted in real soil and solar-powered lights make the Tree habitat-like, if not habitable.

Obviously, this piece is visually and thematically comparable to Roxy Paine’s Three Sculptures in Madison Square Park, but its installation in a body of water is striking in a different way. I pass the stainless steel trees (two lean into a shadeless embrace on the center lawn; a third is dead, “rotting” on its own off to the side) and boulders in Madison Square Park and notice how easily they might go unnoticed. The assumption could be made that those manmade elements were added to the park’s landscape to replace natural elements that were somehow lost to urbanness, the way an artificial limb fills a physical void on a human body.

The sculpture in Anable Basin cannot be mistaken for a surrogate. Trees do not take root in water. It doesn’t belong out there, it doesn’t make sense, not as wood or as aluminum. The installation speaks to issues of rightful land use and celebrates environmental regeneration, but as its floating form beckons eyes past the shore, it also offers a silent invitation to what will likely be the next frontier in landscape architecture.

Water surface area and volume provide hopeful opportunities for wind- and water-powered energy, but will there be any resources left to conquer once we take to the sea? The artificial island looks like a green mirage floating in an industrial waterway, but as it sways with the tide, an eerily foreign body, it also resembles a silver space station drifting in the darkness beyond the sky. To what oasis will we flee next?

Tree‘s current location is temporary. The sculpture is meant to float unanchored so it can travel naturally through New York City’s waterways. This plan will raise some arguments on practicality from city officials, but I hope that the tree meets an audience beyond Anable Basin. The figure is beautiful; equally graceful and bold. The unfolding branches almost look like they’ve been arranged too carefully. In silhouette, the shape is too balanced, too elegant. And what’s most stunning is that it was modelled after the real thing.

“Trees go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!“—John Muir

They made him an offer that he could refuse

The Joe Torre Years are over.

The news spread quickly in New York. My friend Kate, a Boston native, sent me a Facebook message: “Even I’ll admit, your man Torre was the only guy who could make me nervous on the field.” My roommate forwarded the breaking news alert from NYT.com. “Have you heard?”

I passed the news on. My boss wrote back, “Who?” My dad said, “Wow, they made him an offer that he could refuse.”

The offer extended at Legends Field in Tampa represented a one-year contract and a salary cut. I’m not surprised that Torre walked away from such a conditional offer, full of “ifs” and silent “in cases.” In his twelve years as manager, he lead the Yankees into twelve post-seasons. His team won six pennants and four World Championships. Among his devoted following are fans and several of the players that the team will rely on next season.

Dollars aside, the new contract would have represented borrowed time with the team. Torre would have had just a year to redeem himself with the Yankee Monarchy. If the team had another off-year, he would have been out anyway and faced with a bombardment of “why not sooner?” If the team pulled it together for 2008, he would have been on probation. An eight million dollar probation is still a probation when Yankee pride is at stake.

“Rejected” is as good as a conspiracy slant on Torre’s reaction to the 1-year offer. This deal was fabricated to shoo Torre out. He wasn’t fired; he didn’t accept a hand-out. He walked away with the same level-headedness and staid dignity with which he lead the Yankee team.

The Steinbrothers, who are assuming ownership responsibilities as George Steinbrenner bows out, will get to choose a new manager, and it sounds like they will be moving on quickly.

This way, everybody wins.

But that’s not how it works in baseball.

This just can’t be subway love

Love is in the air. Or maybe there’s something in the water. It’s summer and New York City is getting steamy in more ways that one. I have witnessed more flirtation, heard more pick-up lines and stumbled upon more public displays of affection since this heat wave started than I did all winter, when people were supposed to be cozying up. Is it possible that bedposts across the city are earning new notches for every notch the heat index rises?

Last weekend, I was on my way into Manhattan, riding the F-train across from three other passengers. One, the A-Rod archetype, had an electronic gadget half-way between a Blackberry and a laptop open on his lap. He wasn’t looking at the screen, though. An exotic-looking (extraordinarily so, I must say) woman had distracted him. When the person sitting between them got off the train, B-Rod slid down the bench seat toward her and wasted no time striking up a little small talk.

“You’re incredibly beautiful; what’s your heritage?” The woman was blushed graciously and told him that she was Sicilian and Peruvian. She started thumbing through a magazine, but entertained her suitor’s remarks about his own heritage and told him where her parents were from before tilting her head so that her hair draped over her shoulder to form a dark, wavy veil over her face. He tipped forward a bit to get another peek and to offer his phone number, which the woman declined with the coyness that women use when they want to escape without hurting any feelings. She went back to her magazine, B-Rod took it like a man and they just waved and smiled at each other when she got off the train a few stops later.

As I listened in on countless similar conversations over the next few days, I couldn’t tell for sure if I was actually witnessing an increased amount of would-be romantic encounters or not. It’s entirely possible that the hazy heat is not a product humidity and pollution, but a cloud of pheromones exuded by the over-heating bodies of single New Yorkers. It’s also entirely possible that I’m not inhaling any pheromones at all. In fact, I’m downwind of a garbage can, but so hyper-aware of any state of amorousness at all that the festering Happy Meals and copies of this morning’s AM New York smell like a dozen long-stemmed roses and a melting handful of green M&M’s.

Perhaps, then, I had spent the whole week priming myself for my own encounter, which took place at Delancey Street late Friday night. A tall, lanky figure emerged from my peripheral vision to take the last remaining seat on the bench and remarked on impatience and late subway trains. We introduced ourselves and eventually got on the train together. When he disembarked forty minutes later, he was technically little more than a stranger; a stranger named “Lavar…like ‘lover’…I can’t believe I just said that.” As I saved his number in my cell phone, I realized that I had been ‘picked up.’ I didn’t even recognize the motives of the advance behind Lavar’s ironic wit and friendly, effortless humor. He had even teased me about the hickey on my neck, garnered at a previous location from a previous gentleman, but I didn’t feel like he interpreted it as a sign (literally) I would be a sure thing.

My reaction to the pick-up lines and PDsA that people bat back and forth every day is almost always different. Sometimes I’m amused, sometimes I’m impressed, sometimes I’m appalled, and the factors that determine my response are always changing, too. Obviously I’m much more likely to think, “get a room” when I haven’t been in a room of my own for awhile, and when I’m feeling swept off my feet, I’m happy to see someone else get swept. I’m flattered almost as often as I am offended by uninvited and unrequited attention from random guys (and I almost always make a point to interpret cat calls as compliments). No matter what, even in the most sincerely adorable circumstances, I do always find myself wondering: what is it that makes someone interpret a person’s ridership of public transportation as a personal ad?

My name is Eloise. I go to Pre-K at the Y.

I thoroughly enjoyed today’s New York/Regional article about the fleet of luxury vehicles that idle outside the YMCA on 92nd street and Lexington, which I read bit by bit on the subway this morning by craning my neck while a man who actually subscribes to the New York Times read an article on the opposite page. It covers the notable increase of these vehicles outside the Y every morning as they drop passengers off on the red carpet that leads up to the pre-school.

Yes. Pre-school. Not post-school. Not even school-school. Pre-schoolers are being dropped off for the day in hired cars that cost about as much as a year’s tuition will by the time they get to college.

This article tickled me so much for several reasons. One, the photograph beside the headline is absolutely precious. A little girl wearing tiny brown sandals and a wide-eyed expression toddles forward, her arms posed as if she might be marching, from the open jaws of a Mercedes SUV. A round man in a very black suit and gleaming dress shoes holds out an umbrella large enough to swallow her whole.

It is the very picture of a young child about to begin a day filled with chatter, play-dough and animal crackers while her parents are off somewhere else (note that this driver isn’t just waiting in the car, he is also am umbrella-wielding escort) engaging in hoity-toity babble, pushing around dollars and dough, and munching daintily on tea and crumpets. Do they know how adorable their little girl looks on her way to school? Only if they had time to read the Region section of today’s paper.

I also love the fact that this article contains the phrase, “subsequent research,” indicating first that initial research took place, and second that it did not prove sufficient. And what did we glean from the subsequent research? 1) Most of the escorted children have fathers who work in “capital management.” 2) Most of their parents have been married for at least 10 years. 3) School officials have far too much time on their hands.

I have to say that I found it quite interesting that all of this effort went in to running background checks on the students’ parents and no one bothered to investigate the drivers, the ones who are actually spending time in a moving vehicle with the kids.

Finally, I am most fascinated by the letter sent home to parents by Nancy Schulman, director of the apparently famous nursery school at the 92nd street Y. As a former student, employee of my hometown public school system, and camp counselor, I have had the opportunity to skim my share of letters from school officials to parents. Most recently, I had the pleasure of reading lines transcribed from a letter to parents of Simsbury High School students, which included, “Please forgive us for going into detail here,” and went on to describe the “front-to-back dancing” that is now prohibited at school-sponsored social events. Like much of the mail that public school administrators send home to parents, it blamed students and society and encouraged parents to “have a conversation” which their society-ruined students.

The best part about Ms. Schulman’s letter is what sets it apart from all the rest. According to the article, “The letter…reminded families that one assessment Ms. Schulman and her colleagues are asked to make by lower-school admissions officers is whether the applicant’s parents have been “cooperative” with the school’s requests.” She scolds the parents! You tell ’em, Nancy!

This whole scenario reminds me fondly of Eloise, the rambunctious six-year-old who lives at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny, Nanny. Where are Mom and Dad? Absent, absent, absent. Meanwhile, their far-from-demure daughter runs helter-skelter about the hotel, generally wrecking havoc in every possible way.

Now, I know it’s just a picture book and I know nobody wants to read about the Eloise who lives at the Ho-Jo’s over in Jersey City. The point is that, while it’s clear that Eloise loves living at the Plaza, she would be equally happy to wreck havoc on a less glamorous setting. Maybe more so. Little Eloise can’t tell the difference yet.

I only wish there were a way to preserve the look in that little girl’s eyes as she is delivered into the world from the climate-controlled backseat of her Escalade or Beemer or whatever. I hope that she doesn’t forget that “paper cups are very good for talking to Mars,” as Eloise taught us, the very moment she enrolls at whichever private private private Kindergarten her parents have selected.