45

Upper West Side

UWS intro

 

Welcome – back – to NY! I know. But I have my reasons…

Coco is usually incredibly flexible, not minding where we go or what we do. But there was one thing she really felt strongly about – if we weren’t going to be home in time to spend Christmas with our family, that we at least spend it with friends. Having made all the decisions for 99% of this project, I decided it was only fair she have a say at last.

By coming back to NY for a few weeks, we could not only tick the ‘Christmas with friends’ box – we could also check out the city post-Hurricane Sandy.

Like millions around the world I watched with horror as parts of NY went under water during the ‘super storm’ almost two months ago, drowning people in basements and wrenching babies from their mother’s arms.

But when I emailed my friend Chris, who we’d stayed with on the Upper West Side just weeks before, it was almost “What hurricane?” Strong winds, sure, but no flooding, no loss of power and no tragic stories.

I wanted to see for myself how this ‘tale of two cities’ was panning out.

So back to NY we went. We had to fly to LA from Tokyo anyway so it wasn’t such a huge deal to hop on a plane for the five hour flight east to NY. But it still felt a little weird, looping back, not to mention guilt-inducing – my carbon footprint has never been so worrisome.

I’d planned to start with one of the NY neighbourhoods that was badly affected by the storm surge but I hadn’t counted on the fact that we’d be total zombies for a week from seriously bad jet lag. Even when we were awake we felt half asleep.

So, given that we were back on the Upper West Side in Chris’s apartment, it made sense to stay local and begin here.

Some facts. The Upper West Side is big, stretching from 59th Street to 110th Street, and from the Hudson River to Central Park. In the 18th century it was farmland with a few wealthy country residences dotted around. Some of NY’s best loved buildings were built in the early 1900s, including the Dakota and the Apthorp. By the mid-1900s, the UWS was built-up and had become a real mix – Jewish, gay, Hispanic, artists, working class and rough. It gentrified like the rest of Manhattan in the late 20th century and is now mostly affluent.

Okay, let’s have a look….

 

Part 1: At first glance

Hurricane Sandy was all about elevation – areas that were low lying went under, those that didn’t got off almost scot-free.

Being the second most elevated area in NYC, the UWS was in the latter category; it was simply too high for the storm surge to affect it.

So while I wasn’t expecting to see any physical evidence of Hurricane Sandy, I thought maybe you’d be able to read it on people’s faces; New Yorkers are renown for uniting in the face of disasters – they would surely be feeling the pain.

But no, at least not that you could tell from a quick glance. While the UWS is usually fairly quiet, it wasn’t abnormally subdued. This was not a neighbourhood struggling to come to terms with one of the worst storms in the city’s history and there’s no way you’d have guessed that a mere subway ride away, the recovery was far from over – from what I’d read, many of the 20,000 residents of one of the worst affected areas, the Rockaways, were still without heat or electricity. Not good anytime but especially bad during winter.

Meanwhile on the UWS, all was well. In fact, better than well – the holiday season had begun and whether you were Jewish or Gentile, celebrating Hanukkah or about to celebrate Christmas, life was good.

 

 

side by side - the Menorah and the Christmas tree

side by side – the Menorah and the Christmas tree

 

 

 

 

a show on Broadway

a show on Broadway

 

 

 

 

Christmas baubles

Christmas baubles

 

 

 

 

Happy Hannukah

Happy Hanukkah

 

 

 

 

hoodies

hoodies

 

 

 

 

L is for Love

L is for Love

 

 

 

 

oh no! - a lost Christmas list

oh no! – a lost Christmas list

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, for some, the last week hasn’t been about lighting candles for Hanukkah or doing Christmas shopping, but just getting on with normal life. Like Sheila who was thrilled I noticed her – not only was she used to being “invisible”, she told me, “It’s also a year today that my mum died so I’m feeling kind of emotional.”

 

 

"You've made me so happy. After a certain age women can feel invisible. And it's also a year today that my mum died. So I'm feeling kind of emotional. Thank you." - Sheila

“You’ve made me so happy. After a certain age women can feel invisible. Thank you.” – Sheila

 

 

 

 

And Marilyn, who was visiting the neighbourhood not for anything festive but to see her therapist. Having been photographed a few years before for Ari Cohen’s ‘Advanced Style’ project and still very chic at 85, Marilyn struck me as someone who was in no danger of feeling invisible.

 

 

"Actually I live on the Upper East Side. I'm just here to see my therapist!' - Marilyn, 85

“Actually I live on the Upper East Side. I’m just here to see my therapist!’ – Marilyn, 85

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Riverside Park

So that was my first impression of the UWS – normal but pleasantly festive. Magical even, on the morning when a thick fog came off the Hudson River, turning the local park where we went to walk Bella, Chris’s dog, into a cosy wintry corner. It felt like we were in a bubble, isolated from anything and everywhere. People walked their dogs, chatted and laughed with their neighbours. Again the thought went through my mind – ‘What hurricane?’

 

 

9am in the fog :: 1

9am in the fog :: 1

 

 

 

 

9am in the fog :: 2

9am in the fog :: 2

 

 

 

 

Europe were it not for the yellow school bus

Europe were it not for the yellow school bus

 

 

 

 

autumn leaves the colour of traffic lights

autumn leaves the colour of traffic lights

 

 

 

 

more leaves on the ground than in the trees

more leaves on the ground than in the trees

 

 

 

 

rugged

rugged

 

 

 

 

Riverside Park was just as magical in the sunshine.

 

 

'sustenance and renewal' - Riverside Park

‘sustenance and renewal’ – Riverside Park

 

 

 

 

5pm sunset :: 1

5pm sunset :: 1

 

 

 

 

5pm sunset :: 2

5pm sunset :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 3: David and Miles

One encounter I had with a UWS resident made me forget about the hurricane completely.

While I was busy scrutinising the outside of an apartment block on 83rd street and Broadway, David, a retired history and American literature professor, emerged out the front door.

Once he’d found out what I was doing, he told me that was what his partner, Miles, had done for many years before his death from AIDS just eight months ago. “Except he used pen and ink, not a camera”.

Would I like to see his apartment? Sure!

While I had a nose around the ground floor apartment, the incredibly friendly and chatty David told me all about Miles (Robert Miles Parker), his partner of 27 years and a “semi-famous” artist and preservationist.

It seems Miles had spent much of his life wandering around the city drawing buildings he liked the look of.

A resident of the UWS for many years, in 1988 he produced “Upper West Side: New York,” a book of more than 200 drawings of buildings in the neighbourhood and his personal commentary, which clearly showed his passion for the old and under threat.

When he died the city showed its appreciation of his work by publishing his obituary in the NY Times.

David also told me how much the UWS had changed. In the 80s his apartment was a crack den with a prostitute on the corner. Now the area was “very yuppy but old – Jewish intellectual and an older gay population”. Fortunately for him his apartment, where’s he lived since 1989, is rent controlled but were it not, the former crack den – a two bedroom with high ceilings and a double living room – would rent for US$1,500 a week.

 

 

David's home, The Amidon

David’s home, The Amidon

 

 

 

 

putting on a brave face - David, eight months after the loss of his partner to AIDS

putting on a brave face – David, eight months after the loss of his partner to AIDS

 

 

 

 

Miles drew hundreds of UWS buildings, including the Ansonia

Miles drew hundreds of UWS buildings, including the Ansonia

 

 

 

 

passions - preservation and his partner

his passions – preservation and his partner

 

 

 

 

"What I miss the most is having someone around to just tell the small stuff to"

“What I miss the most is having someone around to just tell the small stuff to”

 

 

 

 

"Miles used to sit there for at least an hour a day and paint"

“Miles used to sit there for at least an hour a day and paint”

 

 

 

 

I got so lost in David’s story that I completely forgot to ask him about his experience of the hurricane. It was only later that I wondered, if he had been flooded, how sad it would’ve been for all Miles’ paintings to have been lost. As it is, they’re still very much alive.

 

 

"People often notice the flower paintings as they walk past outside and want to come in and have a look"

“People often notice the flower paintings as they walk past outside and want to come in and have a look”

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Harvey and Alice

After having a stickybeak in David’s apartment, I was keen to show you a few other ones in the neighbourhood.

Last time we were here, we’d done some dog-minding for Harvey and Alice, friends of our friend Chris who live across the road, just a few blocks down from David’s place. We’d only had a quick peek at their apartment when we dropped off Emma, their beautiful Golden Retriever. But from that one glimpse you could tell it was a classic older apartment with great proportions.

Could we come over and take a few shots? Sure.

 

 

a classic UWS apartment - Harvey, Alice and Emma the dog's home

a classic UWS apartment – Harvey, Alice and Emma the dog’s home

 

 

 

 

looking west towards Riverside Park and the Hudson River

looking west towards Riverside Park and the Hudson River

 

 

 

 

On the day we visited, Alice was out and Harvey was on his own. This time I remembered to ask about the hurricane. Harvey told us that Alice, a lawyer, was actually heading off to the Rockaways the next day to advise some of the storm victims how to navigate complicated bureaucracies to receive government support. It was going to be a long road to recovery.

And what about the UWS, how had that changed? Harvey and Alice have lived in the 100 year old apartment for 33 years and, like David, remember the neighbourhood being incredibly different. “It used to be much more interesting. Now no one can afford to live here but wealthy types and it’s like a shopping mall”, said Harvey.

I had to agree – there’s a Victoria’s Secret on Broadway for goodness sake.

 

 

"I love the park but elsewhere the UWS is like a shopping mall"

“I love the park but elsewhere the UWS is like a shopping mall”

 

 

 

 

Emma, Bella's friend

Emma, Bella’s friend

 

 

 

 

Emma and Chris’s gorgeous black German Shepard, Bella, are good mates. Helped no doubt by the fact they can wave to one another from across the street. Isn’t that what dogs do when no one’s looking?

 

 

neighbours - the view across to Chris's apartment

neighbours – the view across to Chris’s apartment

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Margot, Stan, Sasha and Chloe

On one of our visits to the park to take Bella for a walk we met another UWS resident, Margot. Well, Coco met Margot – and charmed her so much she was invited over for a play-date with Margot’s two daughters.

The family live with various creatures (tortoises, hamsters, dog) on the 11th and 12th floor of an apartment block just around the corner from us. I didn’t take many shots but what was interesting about this place was that they’d joined two floors together to create a spacious, luxurious home in the heavens.

Margot is an actress, Stan, a musician, and the two girls, delightful.

 

 

luxury on the 11th and 12th floors

luxury on the 11th and 12th floors

 

 

 

 

Margot and Roxy

Margot and Roxie

 

 

 

 

the view downtown

the view downtown

 

 

 

 

When I asked Margot about the hurricane, I heard yet again that they’d barely noticed it on the UWS. But like many who live in the neighbourhood, they did feel the pain; Margot bought a whole load of stuff – food, nappies, anything she could think of that would be in short supply – and took it down to the Rockaways about a week after the hurricane had hit.

The morning we’d met Margot in the park, we’d also met Nancy, another UWS resident. She’d also responded to the disaster by going out to the Rockaways to do whatever she could to help.

“Before I went there, I didn’t realise the full extent of the disaster. Even though we’re not that far, it was like it was happening in another city.” When she went there she said, “You saw the best and worst of people. Some, taking stuff they clearly didn’t need, others doing everything they could to help.”

“But it was also quite scary: People think of the Rockaways as a nice beach area but it also has lots of projects (public housing) too. After Sandy, they became a no man’s land without any electricity, looting, old people afraid to come out of their homes. It was chaos.”

 

 

"It was like it was happening in another city" - Nancy and Bentley

“It was like it was happening in another city” – Nancy and Bentley

 

 

 

 

Part 6: The doormen of the UWS

The sense that everything was under control in the UWS was enhanced by the doormen in the neighbourhood. Guardians of their buildings and those within, they stand sentinel until required to hail down a taxi, carry a bag or even walk a dog. But wash a car? No, they do not wash cars.

 

 

"The best thing about being a doorman is the people. Worst is the weather" - Raul, on West End, taking a tenant's dog for a walk

“The best thing about being a doorman is the people. Worst is the weather” – Raul, on West End, taking a tenant’s dog for a walk

 

 

 

 

"The weirdest thing I've been asked to do? Wash a car. I had to refuse" - Peter, on West End

“The weirdest thing I’ve been asked to do? Wash a car. I had to refuse” – Peter, on West End

 

 

 

 

"The worst thing is the standing all day but I love it" - Jose, Apthorp

“The worst thing is the standing all day but I love it” – Jose, Apthorp

 

 

 

 

The doormen of the Dakota, the building where John Lennon was shot, weren’t allowed to give their names nor pose. They’re busy enough fending off eager Lennon fans from venturing inside the famous building.

 

 

"I've been the Dakota's doorman for 27 years, ever since I left school. I love it cos I get to meet people from all over the world"

“I’ve been the Dakota’s doorman for 27 years, ever since I left school. I love it cos I get to meet people from all over the world”

 

 

 

 

the Dakota doormen's jobs includes opening doors and keeping John Lennon fans at bay

the Dakota doormen’s jobs includes opening doors and keeping John Lennon fans at bay

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

The Upper West Side buildings are probably what I think of when I think of NY – handsome things with wonderful details and water towers that bring to mind witches hats. But I’m with Miles – many of them are under threat (doorman Peter’s building, for example, is new, created by knocking down three lovely old townhouses a few years ago) and need protection from greedy developers who couldn’t care less about charm or patina.

But thanks to its high elevation, at least the neighbourhood wasn’t under threat from Hurricane Sandy and her disastrous storm surge.

And it turned out that the people of the UWS did and do feel the pain of those much less fortunate, particularly in the Rockaways where life will take a long long time to get back to normal, if ever. Well, that’s what I read anyway – it’ll be interesting next week to see first-hand just how the neighbourhood is faring.

 

 

 

inseperable - Bella and Coco :: 1

inseparable – Bella and Coco :: 1

 

 

 

 

inseparable - Bella and Coco :: 2

inseparable – Bella and Coco :: 2

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As I mentioned, Coco and I have spent most of the week in a zombie-like state thanks to the worst jet lag I’ve ever known. It didn’t help being winter – by 5pm it’s pitch black, obviously time to go to bed your body tells you. Anyway, we’re over the worst of it now and are almost feeling human again.

Despite the fatigue, Coco has been busy. There’s the Christmas List to add to, Bella the dog to walk and her new friends around the corner to play with. None of which I begrudge her; after the appalling tragedy a few days ago in Connecticut, less than 100 miles north of NY, I have hugged and held my daughter just that little bit tighter. My heart goes out to each and every one of those families.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Alan Ventress

See you next week.

 

42

Kagurazaka

K intro

 

Oops.

I had planned to show you a younger face of Tokyo this week but ended up yet again being totally seduced by the old. I just meant to pop my head into Kagurazaka, a neighbourhood on the edge of Shinjuku, because a blog follower who’d lived there said it had “old, cobbled lanes running off of the high street and is one of the remaining areas in the centre of the city that you can still navigate using an Edo-era map” (thanks Laura B!).

Five minutes and then we’d be out of there. Ha. No such luck. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn in once more by those who float down the street, hair upswept, torsos bound and feet sheathed in white.

Ya. Kimonos. I cannot resist them, especially when they’re gliding around an older neighbourhood like Kagurazaka.

I was also sucked in by some beautiful wagashi – Japanese sweets – and the chance of spying geisha (they still frequent the area).

Some background: Kagurazaka is one of the few areas that wasn’t bombed in WWII. We’re talking Tokyo so that doesn’t mean they kept all the old stuff. But there’s more of it than in your average neighbourhood, as well as a cluster of very atmospheric cobbled lanes that Laura had mentioned. There’s also a distinct French presence with lots of little French eateries and, bizarrely, French music being piped down the main street.

Now glide…

 

Part 1: Kimonos in Kagurazaka

I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I’m so taken with the whole kimono look, more so than say with the Indian sari. I think it’s because while saris are extremely beautiful they’re part of the 21st century, still worn by millions of women on the Indian subcontinent as an everyday garment. The kimono on the other hand is a glimpse into the past – most modern Japanese women don’t wear one, and if they do, it’s usually for a special occasion only.

Which is why I love meeting those for whom it’s a passion. Like Emiko, a kimono hobbyist, and Kazuko, a kimono teacher, in the images below. Visit any city in the First World and really, we all look pretty much the same. But not these women. They’re committed to the process of assembling the 12 or more pieces that are required to put together a typical kimono outfit, mixing and matching the various bits in such a way that’s pleasing to their eye and reflective of their personality, and then securing them in the same way Japanese women have been doing so for centuries. One quick glance at an obi and you can tell – there’s no zipper there.

The other reason I’m so drawn to them is because most of them are such beautiful prints. They are moving artworks that literally dress up and enhance what can often be a fairly uninspiring urban landscape – even in Kagurazaka, where there are more old interesting buildings than usual as well as some appealing modern ones.

Anyway, I hope that explains why it’s week four in Tokyo and I’m still photographing kimonos – and as much as I’m trying to limit myself, may continue to do so until the day we say, see ya’ Tokyo.

 

 

straight lines - Emiko in her mother's kimono

“it’s my hobby” – Emiko in her mother’s kimono

 

 

 

 

salmon pink

salmon pink

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 1

 

 

 

 

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

squeezing nature in wherever possible :: 2

 

 

 

 

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

ideal for winding your way to the mountains

 

 

 

 

patterns a plenty - Hatue

patterns a plenty – Hatue

 

 

 

 

infinite variety

infinite variety

 

 

 

 

We ran into Emiko and her friend, Yasuko, again at the end of the main road in Kagurazaka where modern Tokyo takes over once more. I loved watching their ancient shapes disappear into the crush of any-city garb.

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 1

ancient in the modern  :: 1

 

 

 

 

heading home -Yasuko and Emiko :: 2

ancient in the modern :: 2

 

 

 

 

No sooner had they left than another group of kimonos turned up, with Kazuko, a kimono teacher, leading the charge.

 

 

Kazuko, kimono teacher

Kazuko, kimono teacher

 

 

 

 

a work of art

a work of art

 

 

 

 

my assistant - Coco explaining the project

my assistant – Coco explaining the project

 

 

 

 

fans

fans

 

 

 

 

As beautiful as Kazuko’s kimono was, it was the end of another exhausting day – time to do battle in the subway.

 

 

day fades quickly into night

day fades quickly into night in the Japanese autumn

 

 

 

 

rush hour on Tokyo subway

rush hour on Tokyo subway

 

 

 

 

The Japanese are expert at napping on the subway – Coco, absolutely tuckered out by a day of chasing kimonos in Kagurazaka, joined them.

 

 

turning Japanese

turning Japanese

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Coco in kimono

You know how in each city we do a little shoot with Coco dressed in something appropriate? Well, a kimono was the obvious choice for Tokyo but rather than do the whole kid-kimono thing, she wanted a kimono with a twist. So we bought a AUD$10 (cheap!) adult kimono jacket, stripy socks and added pink blush under her eyes, a look you see a fair bit around Tokyo.

Took a few shots of her down a lane – and then ducked up to the temple on the main road where there happened to be some sort of matsuri (festival) going on, to hand out our own offering… 

 

 

half anf half

half and half

 

 

 

 

with the temple dudes

with the temple dudes

 

 

 

 

mini kimono ladies

mini kimono ladies

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 1

would you like one? :: 1

 

 

 

 

would you like one? :: 2

would you like one? :: 2

 

 

 

 

would your dog like one?

would your dog like one?

 

 

 

 

what about you, would you like one?

what about you, would you like one?

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Sweet things

After the temple, we went and visited Hisae whom we’d met the first day we arrived in the neighbourhood at her shop, Baikatei, to admire her beautiful sweets once more.

 

 

 

sweet - Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she's had for 45 years

sweet – Hisae outside the 80 year old shop she’s had for 45 years

 

 

 

 

Hisae explained that what makes her sweets so special is the type of sugar they use and the way they process the beans that go inside the sweets. That and the skill of her main man, who makes hundreds of tiny, edible artworks every day…

 

 

from this to...

from this…

 

 

 

 

to this - Camelia Princess

…to this – Camellia Princess

 

 

 

 

I wanted to photograph some of his creations on something that was equally special. So we bought a few and wandered through the back streets of Kagurazaka to find another shop we’d spied earlier that had beautiful hand-made plates amongst other things.

Now, I’m not easily impressed and I’m not much a retail queen, but if I had the moola, I would buy every single item at La Ronde D’Argile. And I’d like to live in the building too, a tiny old house with tatami mats and the most wonderful feeling.

I don’t think the shop’s owner knew quite what to make of us – a kid in a kimono jacket and me, carrying a tray of Japanese sweets, pointing wildly at her plates – ‘Can I please take your plates outside and photograph these sweets on them?’

 

 

anyone?:: 1

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 1

 

 

 

 

anyone?:: 2

anyone for a Camellia Princess?:: 2

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 1

snowmen and Santa :: 1

 

 

 

 

snowmen and Santa :: 2

snowmen and Santa :: 2

 

 

 

 

After I’d finished snapping the sweets, I couldn’t help taking a few shots of the shop’s interior. Actually, I think it was partly that we just didn’t want to leave. Coco made herself at home on the tatmi mats, drawing and playing a game of rock, paper, scissor in Japanese with a new found friend, while I floated around, uplifted by the tiny house’s good energy.

 

 

the work of 'up and coming Japanese artists'

the work of ‘up and coming Japanese artists’

 

 

 

 

a customer scrutinises the wares

a customer scrutinises the wares

 

 

 

 

while Coco plays with her new friend

while Coco plays with her new friend

 

 

 

 

The only feature of the place I wasn’t fond of was the staircase. Vertiginous in a word.

 

 

scary steep stairs

scary steep stairs

 

 

 

 

drat it, I didn't write down her name - but she's the owner

drat it, I didn’t write down her name – but she’s the owner

 

 

 

 

At some point while playing inside, Coco remembered we’d brought chopsticks to put in her hair and stuck them in. She had the kimono, the napping on trains, the playing rock, paper, scissor in Japanese and the chopsticks. All she needed now was…

 

 

doing the peace sign thing - the transformation is complete

doing the peace sign thing – the transformation is complete

 

 

 

 

I do not know why all Japanese – aside from the kimono women – do the peace sign thing when being photographed. But they do. And now Coco does too.

As we were leaving the neighbourhood for the last time, we ran into Hatue again, an older lady we’d met on a rainy, cold day during the week. Hatue was always in a rush and looked slightly peeved that I was taking up her time. But this time Coco, enlivened by her new Japanese-ness, launched herself at Hatue and gave her an enormous hug. Suddenly Hatue wasn’t in a hurry anymore.

 

 

 

hug

hugging Hatue

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

I loved all the kimonos of course but what about Kagurazaka itself? Well, it was probably the most manicured, upmarket neighbourhood we’d explored so far and at one point I wondered if the people that lived or hung out there were less open, more remote. But a kid in a kimono, a tray of tiny biscuits and a hug were all it took to bring out the best in the Kagurazaka-ites.

As for the built environment, amongst the usual Tokyo low rise there were those few lovely old lanes, some sweet older houses and a few more modern numbers with nice clean lines. And like all of Tokyo – at least the bits we’ve seen – there were no hovels nor no mansions, and no pavements (I get it – not enough space for pavements – but it always surprises me.)

And the French thing? Distracted by all things Japanese, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But that piped muzak, it’s really gotta go.

 

 

 

French? un petit peu

French? un petit peu

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco’s had a ball this week. Dressing up, meeting new people, playing new games. She’s loved it. And that kimono jacket, well, it hasn’t left her side…

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 1

 

 

 

 

it's amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves ::  2

it’s amazing what you can hide in your kimono sleeves :: 2

 

 

 

This suburb has been brought to you by Andrew Leslie

See you next week.

 

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