Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas sneezed on New York does sound rather crass to think of one "sneezing" on another, yet that is precisely what Christmas is in New York.  One sees entire buildings dedecked with ribbons, lights and all manner of decorations to herald the holiday season, not to mention the store window displays.  Absolutely delightful!

And so it was on our latest NY adventure.  We had already been there twice during the summer months but thus far had missed out on seeing the city in her full seasonal spendor.  All that was missing was snow.

What is New York without Rockefeller Center and its Christmas Tree?  (This was purely a lucky shot, taken while wading through a crowd without really stopping.  I tried looking for Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock...but I think he was getting kicked off an airplane somewhere when we were here.)
 Radio City Music Hall, where we saw the Rockettes. 
 Macy's, with its wooden escalator and giant mailbox for one to send a letter to Santa.
The window displays were truly a wonder to behold.  Most had some form of animation, and those that didn't were simply a splash of beautiful color.

 Remember what I said about bedecked buildings? 
Even when away from the major streets like Broadway or 5th Avenue, store windows still found creative ways to express the holiday cheer, such as these Christian Louboutin shoes.
No matter where one is, one is never far from a famous landmark, such as the Chrysler Building shown above
 This is the Time-Warner Center, with Columbus Circle and Central Park seen through the window.
While strolling through Central Park, we saw this beautiful Cardinal.  Certainly the red color was perfect for Christmas.  I think it was hoping the squirrels would leave something behind.
Despite the glamor and glitz of Fifth Avenue and all the store displays, one can still find simple expressions of the holidays, such as a couple bringing home a small Christmas Tree on the subway.

(If you enjoyed this, you can also check out our visit in 2010:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Gentler Side of Motor City...

Yes...I did promise to show the softer side of Detroit, didn't I?  Some of you will recall reading about shuttered automobile assembly plants, abandoned houses and derelict buildings in my last entry ( Well, here are some aspects of the city that are downright awesome!

The Detroit Zoo has a butterfly exhibit in which the little critters flit about without a care in the world, other than to pay no mind to twitterpated photographers chasing them for that perfect shot.  I cannot say these are perfect, but it was fun and entertaining.  As for what kinds of butterflies...I have no idea (though there is a Monarch in here somewhere), so if any of you happen to know, please email me or add your comments below.

The last two images have a funny story.  Apparently one of the attendants in the room saw me chasing the butterflies with my camera and said I should come to where she was standing.  "Look at these two...they are posing for you."  Indeed they were.  I had to wonder if I were witnessing some sort of mating or courtship ritual.  

The Butterfly Exhibit is in one of the earliest buildings in the Zoo, which was originally formed in 1912.

The Zoo has many more exhibits and wildlife than mere butterflies of course.  Here is a link for more information:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Detroit...a Harbinger of Things to Come?

My travels recently brought me to Motor City, USA.  Being the car guy that I am, and have been so since I was a teenager, this is a mecca of sorts.  I had also heard that Detroit had been hit especially hard by the downturn of our economy, and that large segments of the city was laid to waste.  I was curious, yet despite what I had heard and read, nothing could prepare me for the experience of seeing it for myself.  True, no part of the United States has been spared the effects of the Recession, but the centers of American manufacturing in the northeastern US were probably the hardest hit.  I was both humbled and shocked at what I saw.

It was sad to drive past shuttered factories and abandoned automobile assembly plants...vast parking lots covering tens of acres...empty except for the occasional security car (who wanted to know why I was taking photos and of course wouldn't let me in for a closer peek).   It was even sadder to drive past block after residential block of boarded-up, abandoned or burned out homes.  According to some reports, entire neighborhoods have disappeared and become devoid of homes.

This is Ford Motor Company's Wixom Assembly Plant, where Lincoln Continentals and Thunderbirds were assembled and shipped across the country.  Originally built in 1957, this was one of the oldest and largest Ford plants and produced more than 6 million cars over a 50 year period, until it was shut down in 2007. 

Up to 4,900 employees worked here in the heyday of production, and a little over a thousand when the plant closed.  Here is a video of the day the plant shut down:

The effects of the plant closures (and Ford wasn't the only one, by any means) was devastating to the community.  Detroit was also known for it's beautiful pre-Depression era architecture...buildings such as grand theaters, luxury hotels, offices and other skyscraper buildings that rivaled those in Chicago and New York City.   Even those were not spared the fate of abandonment.  Nothing drives home the economic state of a region more than to see a 16-story building...gutted, derelict and left to the effects of weather and vandalism.  This is the Lee Plaza Hotel, built in the 1920's as a luxury residential hotel.

A street-side view of this building shows a hint of its former glory, with graceful arches and columns now closed behind chain-link fences and sidewalks overgrown with weeds.  More can be seen at this site:

Another phenomenon which I did not expect was the number of burned-out houses scattered throughout the city.  One cannot drive more than a few blocks before encountering the charred hulks like those pictured here.  It wasn't just single family homes, but skeletons of apartment buildings, former motels and commercial buildings were also seen repeatedly.  A quick Google search found a couple of reasons for it, one of which is a so-called tradition going back to the 1980's called "Devils Night" before Halloween where empty houses are set afire. and's_Night.

Also, Detroit fell victim to a number of other inner city issues such as urban flight where many fled to outlying suburbs, leaving empty homes behind...which became targets for vandalism, squatters and arson.  The reasons for leaving of course, are legion.  Allegations of corruption in city government offices and racial tensions are among the ingredients of the soup of recession that bubbles throughout the city. 

The feelings of despair and depression are palpable as one drives through some of the neighborhoods.  Drug addiction and the collateral damage that accompanies it are rampant.  One can wonder but when one cannot find work, be it meaningful or survival, it is no surprise one seeks whatever means one can to alleviate the pain and frustration. 

What is the solution?  Is it as simple as providing jobs for people, so food can be placed on the table and a roof over one's head?  Is it so one can hold one's head up in pride, knowing one contributes to the community...and to society? 

It also begs the question of what is the true cost of corporate profit.  When is the bottom line so important that the community must suffer so that investors meet their goal?  What is government's role in promoting or affecting the corporate decision process?

Having traveled to "real" third world countries, I am at a loss to differentiate with what I have read, seen in images, and now with my own eyes here, in what we would like to call the developed world. 

Is this our future?  That depends on how one contemplates the questions presented here.  I am not a bleeding heart liberal who advocates taking what one person works hard for, and giving to another simply because they don't have it.  However...I am also not a hard-nosed conservative who guards my possessions rights at all costs.

There must be some middle ground...

(Comments are welcome...and lest you become too depressed over this picture I have painted, stay tuned for some truly lovely aspects of Detroit.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Market for Fairies and Monsters

Halloween...when the thoughts of children (young and old) turn to "what will I wear?...or perhaps more realistically, "what will I be?" 

This year the Montavilla Farmers Market, as part of its finale for the end of the market season, held a Halloween costume party for the neighborhood children (and yes, many adults indulged their inner child and also came bedecked in costume).  The kids could go to each vendor who would have treats for them.  That's Lilith in the above photo.
Nicolette, a market employee, hisses for the camera.

One is never sure what will happen when two people show up with the same costume.  Fortunately, it looked like the role of hen and rooster was settled quickly.  Erin, the Market's volunteer coordinator is the hen...on the left in case you couldn't tell.

Violeta, another frequent Market volunteer also happens to be "officially sanctioned by Multnomah County Library System as a 'story teller'" (or so says her husband Michael.  She does work for the library) and told stories for the younger children.   

There was also a place for decorating treat bags.  Market volunteer Nancy Jo helps with the coloring.

 Eli and Claire as Luke Skywalker and a butterfly

Chef Jason McCammon helped with letting the kids make ghoulish treats, including "severed fingers" (small weiners wrapped in dough and dipped in ketchup.  Thanks also to Flying Pie Pizza, just down the block, for letting us use their oven to roast the finger treats)

Chef Jason carved this lovely pumpkin just for the market.  Jason also does ice sculptures with a chainsaw, for wedding receptions and other gatherings...if you are interested. 

 This young gnome poses with other gnomes at...yep, you guessed, Little Gnome Farms' stand. 

Remember what I said about kids of all ages?  Here we have what I presume to be..."Peas and Carrots", or Zenger Farms' very own mascot.

 Thomas the Train and his two passengers bears testimony to the ingenuity of their parents. 
Mother and daughter pose for a shot. 

 A young ladybug...but somewhere I recall that the older bugs have more dots?

In addition to the gnomes and fairies, there was the occasional crusading knight.

 One easily associates the Farmers Market with produce, and especially strawberries...though I suspect one won't find too many this late in the season except for this happy one.

When I went to sample one of the "severed fingers", I was quickly asked if I actually helped make one.  Well, no I hadn't, and despite my press credentials they were not going to let have any unless I made here I am.  They were delicious!

What market is complete without a wine purveyor?  King's Raven Winery even had a little skeleton made from cut up plastic milk jugs. 

It was a wonderful wrap-up for the market, and I have to give kudos to all of volunteers and vendors who have made this one of the best farmers markets in the city...and kudos especially to Beth for her organizing this Halloween party.

Yes, I did say this was the end of the season for the Montavilla Farmers market, didn't I?  Actually there will be one more market on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  See you then...and it will probably be too cold for costumes.