National September 11 Memorial: no man is an island

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I visited the National September 11 Memorial recently. There are no words to express the enormity of the effect this attack had and continues to have on individuals and their families, on the psyche of America and on the implications for the rest of the world.

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But I can say that now I’ve lived here for a while that I have become increasingly aware of how it’s impossible to underestimate the enormous effect the September 11th attacks must have had on Manhattan, and New York in general. The city is so densely packed and areas intimately connected that a wave in one area will ripple throughout the island.

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No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, ‘No Man is an Island’

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190 Bowery, Lower Manhattan: Germania Bank Building [photos]

Words and photos, © Phil Greaney, 2014

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Reading Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein, I wondered what he made of New York. Invited to read his work in the city, Bellow considered it thus:

“When I got the invitation I thought, ‘Should I do it?’ Then I thought that it’s a very pleasant time in New York and this would provide official cover for my trip. Besides, I haven’t seen the graffiti in some time.” [my emphasis]

Watching New York on the tv in the 1970s and -80s, as a nascent hip hop and street art dominated the facades of trains and buildings, I thought then that all of New York was covered in graffiti.

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The address, visible from the top of the door on the corner, has an interesting history. It began life as the Germania Bank Building, designed by Robert Maynicke who also built the Guggenheimer Building in New York’s Waverley Place. An expert in loft design, his work set the prototype for some of Manhattan’s skyline during its development.

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Later, the photographer Jay Maisel purchased the building. Maisel once rented parts of it to artists Adolph Gottlieb and Roy Lichtenstein. It remains in use still now by Maisel.

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In 2005 it was given New York City Landmark status. Somehow, it seems right that its covered in street art, tags and graffiti. It’s a New York.

Identities: the five accents of the five boroughs of New York [video]

I remember an evening meal shortly my arrival in India. Our host asked us if we had visited India before. I said no, and so by way of introduction to his country he outlined some of the different regions and their peoples, and the kinds of attitudes and customs that are normally aligned with them.

I’m a Punjabi, he said. We’re meant to be passionate, tempestuous – and a little fond of – how might I say this – ‘bling’. We laughed.

He went on. Looking around this room, I know, as an Indian, the kinds of peoples we have here. Where they’re from. How well they are doing, or want us to believe anyway. I can tell this by the material in their clothes, the colours, their speech and mannerisms – and of course their surnames, if I were to learn them.

After his speech, I sat back in silence. I was perplexed and fascinated. I’d never learn to read the room in quite the same way all the time I was in India.

Similarly, having lived in New York for two months or so, I couldn’t tell you of which of the boroughs someone was from based upon their accent. Perhaps other New Yorkers can, those that travel amongst the avenues and streets of this vast urban sprawl, those that have made a point of tuning their ears to rising tones and nasal speech and cadence. So, this video – which gives a demonstration of the accents of the five boroughs – was a delight.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to recognise all these different accents – I default at Brooklyn as being the quintessential accent that outsiders likely associate with New York – with but I’ll listen out for them. I might even try to assume a couple of them when I speak here in my neighbourhood in Manhattan, just to confuse the locals.


Photos: Mwahahaha – Halloween on the Upper East Side

DraculaOn Sunday, whilst looking for something else, we instead found the most desperate sights: of men with mouths hanging open, base sounds gurgling from their parched lips; of women clad from head to toe black, lurching around the streets of the Upper East Side, whispering gentle moans of despair.

No, it’s not the bridge and tunnellers at Sunday brunch.

It’s a couple of otherwise respectable houses fulsomely bedecked with some creepy Halloween effigies. There were around half-a-dozen or so such places in the area. I’ll have to look up what it all means. But, judging by this and the enormous amount of space dedicated to Halloween in drug- and department stores, Halloween is as big a thing as you might have anticipated before visiting.

I, for example, am wearing a pumpkin head as I write. Mwahahaha.


Brrr. Just looking at them gives me the wiggins.




Escaping New York: autumnal foliage in New England [photo gallery]

Words and photos © Phil Greaney, 2014

Autumnal pond, with bare tree

Autumnal pond, with bare tree

One of the things I noticed about reading listings resources for New York – TimeOut, Village Voice, the New Yorker’s ‘Goings on About Town…’ and so on, is that a lot of attention is given over to how to escape New York.

Where can one go to find a clean beach, a mountain to climb, a forest to walk through – or just a moment’s peace?

Tree light

Tree light

So it was with us, looking for somewhere to go that wasn’t an island of skyscrapers, somewhere we might find that famous autumnal foliage so beloved of Americans. Well, we found it in the most beautiful place – Lenox, Massachusetts, just a short(ish) drive from Manhattan.

It took two hours’ drive – more or less directly north, most of it on the highway – from Midtown East but really I think an hour or so is sufficient to feel you’re in another country. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you find the tallest thing on the horizon is a tree and not a building.

Red tree

Red tree

There is culture in Massachusetts, too: the Norman Rockwell museum – more on that later – is superb; and the Shaker Village Museum is outstanding (more on that, too).

Massachusetts – and more broadly, New York state north of Manhattan, which seems to go on forever – has a great deal to offer the weary city-dweller; here’s to the beginning of a memorable friendship.

Long landscape

Long landscape


Leaf carpet

Leaf carpet


Wet logs

Wet logs


Path ahead

Path ahead

Fart sock is a thing

'Fart sock', taken in downtown Manhattan

Look closely at the left-hand ‘Equipment’ panel. ‘Fart sock’, taken in downtown Manhattan

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I took it at first to be the scribblings of a drunken prank, the playful bringing together of two incongruous words to create a nonsense.

When I got home, I idly looked it up. Lo and behold, a meaning, albeit a single entry in that most reliably unreliable narrators, Urban Dictionary:

An individual who derives enjoyment from frustrating others, especially by pretending he does not understand something they are trying to explain

“If that fart sock Larry says ‘What do you mean?’ one more time, I’m gonna beat him with the wrong end of a claw hammer.”

What’s interesting is the entry dates from 2003. That’s some comeback. Or maybe it never left. In any case, it’s destined to become part of the ever-expanding lexicon in the Greaney household. Your’s too, I trust.