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Ride the Subway

Ride the subway. The New York subway system is unforgivable. This ancient warren of tunnels, bridges, and elevated rails has not aged well over the last one hundred years. As you descend to the depths of the New York subway all kinds of smells—human, animal and chemical—assault the senses. Screeching train wheels, synthesizers of subway musicians turned up to 10, incomprehensible intercom announcements, and irate passengers yelling through the thick windows to the MTA ticket sellers make it hard to hear your friends, your podcast in the headphones or even your own thoughts. It is filthy. Sticky platforms, rats running across the tracks hunting trash, disheveled fellow passengers, and pukey late night drunks compete with the usual germs of so much humanity crushed together. This is the setting where the first-time visitor—or even the New York Subway veteran—tries to figure which way to go in a maze of stairs, passages and signs. What platform, which direction? Local or express? Where to change trains, especially where it doesn’t feel like you have to walk a mile or leave the station? And on the weekend – forget it. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the track repairs, replacement shuttles,  and non-functioning lines. It’s poorly managed and the platforms are sweltering in the summer and it’s the favorite topic of complaint of New Yorkers, following the weather and real estate costs. 

BUT! I implore you: Ride the subway.

With the above unfavorable conditions a given, the New York subway provides several key advantages as a means of travel. With the exception of a taxi late at night, it’s almost always the fastest way to get anywhere in the city beyond a few blocks’ walk. Despite residents’ complaints, the subway trains actually come on very regular bases throughout the day. Outside of rush hour or in its opposite direction, the train cars are often not crowded. More and more frequently the tracks are equipped with electronic signs showing the arrival of the next train. These rides are cheap. A single ride famously tracks with the average cost of one slice of pizza in the city. Currently $2.75. And most importantly they are teleportation devices to other worlds to be explored.

Get on the B train at Columbus Circle at 59th Street in Manhattan and ride all the way to Brighton Beach. You rocket over the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn, beckoning. You plunge back into the earth only to emerge again above the far plains and suddenly: You have arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. Walk on the boardwalk, then eat caviar and drink vodka in NYC’s Little Odessa.

Or board the A train at West 4th in Greenwich Village and ride up to the Dyckman Street Station at the tip of the Island. Exit and find yourself at the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s actually a gigantic Frankenstein’s monster of buildings- Churches, cloisters, monasteries – bought by wealthy New Yorkers in Europe and shipped to the northern end of Manhattan, and reassembled in a fairy-tale castle housing one of the most exquisite pieces of art in the city: the famed Unicorn Hunt tapestries from 15th century Belgium.

Or ride the 5 train to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and eat delicious Italian food made by Albanians. Or Take the the Q Train to Prospect Park and go fishing in its lake. Or take the L Train all the way to Broadway Junction to walk in the Evergreens Cemetery, and follow the secret path the British took in 1776 to surprise and defeat George Washington’s army in the Battle of Brooklyn. Or just take 6 train to your dinner reservation. Slowly master the map, it’s one of the great joys of being in NYC. Your map app on your smart phone most likely will be happy to give you directions using public transport. You’ll make a wrong turn. No problem. Correct course and you are on your way. Or don’t and see where the unexpected takes you.

Ride the subway train because it’s beautiful. Not all the time, granted. But riding the train and shooting out over the Manhattan Bridge, sun streaming in, the Upper Bay and the statue of Liberty in the distance, these are special moments, provided every few minutes by the Q, N, B and D trains. Or perhaps you’ll be in a train car where several of your fellow passengers will burst into dance, a beat driving them to the ceiling in breathtaking flight. Or a quartet will break into old soul songs. Or put in your earphones and watch the greatest human drama unfold: new loves, breakups, friends laughing, strangers arguing. Or take out your earphones and overhear the greatest human drama at top volume as the city’s anonymity provide cover for loud private confessions. Observe the mosaic of humanity so like you and so unlike you. Speaking hundreds of languages in every skin tone, sipping coffee, on the way to work, on the way home, riding the train. Like you.

Ride the subway, because it is civilization. True, there is almost nothing that makes a New Yorker feel more animal than riding the subway. Squeezed into a rush-hour car, crammed up against perfect strangers as the train takes a long pause in the middle of the tunnel, killer feelings arise. Yet this is precisely why the subway is civilization. There are nearly 2 million rides a day (and nearly a billion a year!) and only the smallest handful of “incidents” each day. People manage in the crowded, claustrophobic, uncomfortable conditions to resolve their tensions, strategically ignore minor offenses, let people know about the unspoken rules, and remain crammed against dozens of strangers and keep their absolute cool. You’ll notice that master look of cool on the faces of many of your fellow riders, even in an almost empty car. A beautiful stare in the middle-distance, respectful of the great mass humanity who is stranger to us, but acknowledging that we are on a journey together. Our world is only growing more crowded and the NYC subway is a model of conflict-minimum interaction, facilitated through a couple million small interactions and negotiations each day.

Ride the subway. Give your seat to those who need it more. Hold tight. Your stop is next.

© 2019 Bruce Burnside

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Ep 10 – Rise up and Fight Washington! – A Vision on Water Street

In this episode of the City Between we continue our exploration of New York in war time, as the city’s residents endured seven long years of war against Rebel forces from 1776-1783. We are going in search of a disembodied voice, that called out to a soldier in barrack on Water Street in 1781, giving a vision of Americans rising up to fight George Washington and his rebel armies… for their freedom.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is a map of the location at Water Street and Wall Street of the plaque marking the former Slave Market site:

Here is the Plaque itself, just a block from the British soldiers barrack discussed in the episode:

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For a great overview on Loyalist Americans and Sergeant Stiele’s vision discussed in this episode check out the great Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff.

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Ep 9 -To Kidnap a Prince – Hanover Square

In this episode of the City Between we travel to the heart of the Anti-Revolutionary War – New York City in 1781. This city teeming with Loyalists and the headquarters of the British in their campaign against the Rebels received a visit from the Royal Family, a 16-year old prince looking for a good time in war time. We follow his adventures in Manhattan and George Washington’s plan to kidnap him.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is map of Hanover Square:

 

Here are some additional Resources for the curious.

The History of the Life and Reign of William the Fourth was Robert Huish, published in 1837, was the biography of the recently deceased king (and former Prince in NYC).

 

 

And another very helpful overview of the subject:

WASHINGTON AUTHORIZES PLAN TO KIDNAP FUTURE KING by Christian M. McBurney

 

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Museum Headache – CURED!

For a long time, I have been working on the diagnosis of an affliction I and many others I know have experienced: Museum Headache. But I also have been hard at work on a cure, which I am pleased to finally share with you, at no cost. Enjoy!

New York City is full to the brim of world-class museums—we all know that. By some counts there are over 80 or perhaps even over a 100 museums in the five boroughs. If you are visiting the city or you live here, you may have a long list of museums you want to see and probably even a list of specific objects to visi

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t in some of those museums. As a visitor you may be tempted to cram seeing all of them into a few days, because who knows when you might return? But even just one single museum visit exposes you to the danger of museum headache.

Museum headaches can come on quick. You will have entered a temple to culture or history or the Ramones and at first you are hurrying along with enjoyment, even after (perhaps a very) long wait in line to get in and after paying more expected for your entrance fee. But after an hour—or even after fifteen minutes or less!—something happens in your brain. It’s all too much. Too many people, too many objects, too many enticing corners to peek around, beckoning you to more objects, more culture, more of the unknown waiting to be discovered! Even in a supposed sanctuary, we are afflicted with our century’s malaise of overwhelm. And then suddenly, the museum headache is there.Throbbing. Its symptoms include a dry mouth, sore legs, irritation, and of course a throbbing head. Total apathy sets in. All the beauty in the world collapses flat in front of your squinting eyes. None of it matters. Your whole being aches. But there is a cure! Life and appreciation of beauty and culture and history can be restored to you. Read on to find out how!

THE CURE:

Full disclaimer: The only sure way to avoid museum headache is to avoid museums all together. Yet I urge you to not immediately take such drastic measures. Museums are often worthy of a visit. They do often contain beautiful or interesting objects, or are even remarkable artifacts in themselves. I want to reassure you that it is possible to visit them with a clear ache-free head, but you must read closely and follow these steps:

  1. First, don’t dare visit more than one museum a day. This was your first mistake, you think want want them all. But no reasonable person can absorb, appreciate and enjoy more than one museum a day. Already, you can erase the extraneous visits off your schedule. Now, all of a sudden, your busy day has a some lovely space in it. Use that time to go for a random walk where you get lost, or go sit and have a cup of coffee, or go people-watching in the park. Feeling better already?
  2. Pick one museum to visit. Big or small, it doesn’t matter (as we’ll see below). If no museum seems intriguing – congratulations! You are headache free, because you should never visit a museum if you don’t want to—Now you have the whole day free! You can eat sandwiches on a bench for hours while you read E. M. Forster and nod off – this is perfectly great way to visit any city, including New York. If your traveling companions did decide to go to a museum anyway, don’t make the mistake of “tagging along” — big rookie mistake! Say: “Have fun! Text me when you’re done!” and go an enjoy the only true modern luxury: time.
  3. If you did decide you really do want to visit a (single) museum, spend some time beforehand selecting one single item of interest (a painting, sculpture, object, etc) that is most exciting, interesting, fascinating to you. It must get your heart fluttering a little just thinking about it. It is to this item that you are going to devote the great part of your purpose and time visiting the museum. Perhaps you are already familiar with the item through some exciting book you read or intriguing documentary you watched or from a story an excited friend told you. Before your visit is the time is to delve a little deeper. Try and get a sense of the object, its biography, the origins of its creation through its journey to the museum. This object is your grand goal. (If you are not willing to pay the museum admission to see only this object, you should probably forget your visit—congratulations! You have the whole day free!) When you arrive at the museum and pay your admission, this object is your FIRST destination (possibly after a visit to the rest rooms, if necessary). Ask directions from the ticket-seller, get them to point it out on the map and head straight there. But don’t rush. Don’t hurry. Savor it. Feel the excitement of discovery, of revelation build as you approach your object. When you arrive in its vicinity, pause at a distance. Without judgement, take in what you see. Then slowly, ever so slowly, begin closing the distance. Perhaps move sideways to vary the angle of your approach. Allow the object to wash over you.
  4. Next, at a comfortable distance stand and observe begin the “Five Senses Check In”. Ask yourself, what does my object look like? Smell like? Taste like? Feel like? Sound like? Obviously, you will be compelled to use your potent imagination to answer most of these questions. After your quiet contemplation, take the time to share the object with someone. Perhaps you dragged an obliging but confused friend or family member direct to this object. Explain its magic to them. Or wrangle a curious nearby stranger and let them into your illuminated world. Or confide in journal or even a social media post if you must.
  5. Eventually find a restful space such as a nearby bench to continue spending time with your object. Become friends, comfortable spending time together.
  6. When it is time to leave you’ll know it by the faint tingle at the back of your neck. Don’t hesitate, stand and stretch your legs, thank the object (silently if necessary), say goodbye and be on your way. However long your time was, 10, 15 minutes, an hour, whatever, it was worth it. You did it and you may happily leave the museum with no feelings of guilt. Go get a coffee or a drink and contemplate the new world that was opened to you through the object, ponder your new reality—with no Museum Headache
  7. Don’t forget to text your companions who insisted on remaining that you’ll meet again later. You will have absorbed so much more than the thousands of visitors who saw hundreds of objects and remember nothing but the throbbing museum headache that followed them around for hours of aimless wandering. Later at the bar or back home when someone asks what you saw at the Met or whichever museum, rather than some uncertain affirmation that you were there, you will launch into a passionate and insightful recounting of the most wonderful, fascinating, intriguing, mysterious, beautiful object — and the ache-free head that saw it all. You’re welcome.

Since you asked, here are six (in no particular order) single objects I have loved to visit under the strict terms outlined above and have enjoyed totally museum headache-free:

  1. The Unicorn in Captivity Tapestry at the Cloisters
  2. The Damascus Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  3. Thomas Cole’s “Pic-nic Party” painting at the Brooklyn Museum
  4. Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer” at the Neue Galerie
  5. Wapiti (Elk) Diorama at the American Natural History Museum
  6. Diedrich Knickerbocker Wooden Figurine at the New-York Historical Society

© 2019 Bruce Burnside

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Ep 8 – Conspiracy Afoot – A Walk in the Village

In this episode of the City Between podcast we go on a walk in Greenwich Village in the cold winter of 1864 with two men – one who was contemplating the worst treachery – as they took a walk around the neighborhood, stopping to drink for the courage to lay bare the plan.

LISTEN:

Listen to the episode right now, just here to open player. Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here (you’ll need to sign in to your gmail account) and Stitcher here.

LOOK:

Here’s a Google Maps view of 45 Grove Street:

Here is Handsome John:
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Ep 7 – The Lost Moorish Tower of Coney Island – A Mirage

In this episode of the City Between podcast we go in search of a lost medieval Moorish tower on Coney Island. The Beacon Tower was once the center piece of the Dreamland amusement park (opened 1904) and it was based on a millennium-old tower in Seville Spain.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

There is no better resource for more information about Dreamland than Jeffery Stanton’s site which you can find here.  This beautiful image of the Beacon Tower can be found there as well:

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Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra can still be found everywhere (including in the Alhambra gift shop!) and is available for a free ebook download here.

Check out the trailer for the Sean Connery film “The Wind and the Lion” based on the Moroccan “Robin Hood” Raisuli. For purposes of moviemaking the elderly Greek-American man who was kidnapped in real life was transformed into a pretty young woman.

This is what the former Dreamland site (aside from the NY Aquarium” looks like in 2018:

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There is two small mentions of the former Dreamland park in this recent mural on the boardwalk:

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Here are closeups of the two mentions:

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Ep 6 – A Pirate Farm in Brooklyn – The Turk’s Plantation

In this episode of City Between – the podcast of New York History’s forgotten and mysterious corners – we go on a slightly Quixotic hunt in Brooklyn for a remanent of the farm of Anthony Jansen van Sale, New York’s first documented Muslim. This farm dates from 1639 and to make our journey 400 years into the past we follow old Indian and Colonial roads whose ghosts can be traced in the modern city. We begin in New Utrecht – once a Dutch Village – and head south in search of the farm.

There is a lot of information out there about Anthony Jansen van Sale, but the most thorough is a history put together by one of his descendants named Brian Smith in 2013. It was indispensable for my account in this episode.

Damian and I begin our journey in New Utrecht. Here is an old map of the area under discussion from 1852, showing New Utrecht and Gravesend :

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We traveled south along the main road (now 18th Ave) from New Utrecht, then along the Bath and Coney Island Road (now Cropsey then Harway Ave) to this area around Jansen’s farm:

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Remembering that this map was made nearly 200 years after Jansen’s time, we can still see an area marked “12 Morgens” – this had been part of that farm. We can also see on this section of the map the Harway Basin that we discuss and the Mill Road running below it. One of the best accounts of the modern Mill Road is from the indomitable Forgotten New York.  They also have some great photos there.

Next using a map made closer to the 1879 discovery of the Jansen’s ruins (mentioned in Bergen’s history) we can see Mayor Gunther’s property with the mentioned buildings just below the “Bath & Coney” text. We can also see the Mill Road here which runs just below the tidal basin (the Harway) coming from the right of the map:

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Here it is on a modern map:

And here is the 1879 map with the suspected site of the farm and the surviving modern day section of Mill Rd circled in red in three sets of overlays from old to new (oriented North):

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Ep 4 – A Vanished Mohawk Village in Brooklyn

 

In this episode of the City Between Podcast–a show where we explore New York City’s uncommon history–we seek out the lost village of the Mohawk Indians near downtown Brooklyn. We search for the traces of this neighborhood known today as Boerum Hill, but whose past its residents called Downtown Kahnawake, after their reservation in Quebec. We’ll visit one of its last echoes, a saloon called Hank’s – come join us!

LISTEN:

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here. This is a standalone episode between our usual series which explore neighborhoods and themes.

SEE

Here is the Google Street view of Hank’s Saloon:

 

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Ep 5 – Fernet Branca: Made in NYC

This is a very special episode of City Between, a podcast about the hidden and forgotten corners of New York City’s history.Today we are going hunting for a lost and forgotten bottling factory in Tribeca, a neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Though the factory is forgotten, its chief spirit it bottled is not. In fact it is still produced in its home city, Milan, Italy and has made a big come back in the United States in recent years. What I am talking about is nothing less than the the king of Amaro, Fernet Branca. Besides a visit to the old New York factory building, will also be doing a tasting of Fernet with my intrepid inbetweener companion, Damian. I’ll be discussing with him a trying time for Fernet Branca in the US in the 1940s, when the Federal Trade Commission pursued them for false advertising claims. I’ll be reading some of those old claims and ads to Damian as we try out their various drinking suggestions.

CLICK “MORE” TO SEE MAPS, PHOTOS AND LISTEN:

Continue reading “Ep 5 – Fernet Branca: Made in NYC”

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Ep 3 – The Kingdom of Ice

In this episode we travel to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn to a last sign of the Lost Kingdom of Ice, the Rubel Coal and Ice Corporation building. Once upon a time natural ice ruled, cut from the lakes of Upstate New York and New England, it shipped to the streets of New York City, where ice trucks clattered across the cobblestones to deliver the ice slivers and blocks to hot, thirsty. We remember the realm of natural ice, the weak artificial ice that’s replaced it, and the last relics of the Kingdom of Ice.

LISTEN:

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here. This is a standalone episode between our usual series which explore neighborhoods and themes.

SEE

Here’s the Rubel Coal and Ice Company on Google Street View:

Rubel Coal & Ice Corporation:

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WATCH

Watch the Ice Worker’s song from ‘Frozen’:

Grieg on guitar:

VISIT:

The Knickerbocker Ice Festival here!

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Ep 2 – A Tavern in Exile

In this episode we take a trip out to Queens to explore a bar in exile, a tavern of a country no longer there: the Gottscheer Hall in Ridgewood. This is a episode is a standalone “inbetweener”. We will have one more of these inbetweeners next week before moving on to our next series on Old Greenwich Village.  I am joined by my friend Damian in this episode (Thanks Damian!).

PHOTOS:

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Map of old Gotschee

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Hat Check sign

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Gottscheer Folk Dance Group

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Gottscheer Newspaper clippings

READING:

Go check out the Gottscheer Hall webpage, see the menu, events and how to get there.
Listen to more of the Gottsheer Choir.

Ep 1 – Santa Claus is From New York City

Santa Claus in the City

Today we explore the birth of Santa Claus in New York City in the early 1800s, the progeny of a prankster writer from downtown (Washington Irving) and a poet and father in Chelsea (C. C. Moore). We hope you enjoy!

The featured photo above is of Santa overseeing dim sum in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Here’s a photo from Clement Clark Moore Park about their annual recitation (CLICK

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Further reading:

NYC Parks page on Clement Clark Moore Park.

Some background on Clement Clark Moore from the Museum of the City of New York.

Washington Irving’s “History of New York”.