Friday, May 25, 2012

Tom's Hat

Blogs have a way of building themselves; sometimes they workout at the gym and get fit; other times they become musclebound and inflexible, or in the case of this one, they just sit there on their mat listening to their ipod, checking their fb, not doing anything. 

Why has it been so hard to get started again? 

Anyway here's a post I meant to do last week, a little out of date, a little inflexible— as I've tried to change it but it insists! At least its off the mat, lifting weights. (OK, you don't have to point out they're only 3 pounders... working on that. 5 then 8!)


In last Sunday's LA Times, a headline below the fold in the California section read, "England returns 7 Native American skulls to California," to which Tom responded, "Only seven?"

Tom has a droll sense of humor when it comes to things native. In the case of stealing Indian bones and moving them elsewhere—to be studied or put on display—the most infamous account was in 1918, when the boys of Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale, dug up Geronimo's grave in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took the remains back to Connecticut. Geronimo's descendents sued Skull and Bones in 2009, but lost their suit a year later; still, the fight for repatriation—"the return to tribes of indigenous bones and artifacts"—goes on.

On the same day Indian skulls were in the news, the solar eclipse appeared above the western skies, at 6:38 pm, for about an hour. I'd read in the same Sunday paper that Navajo custom called for praying, fasting and staying indoors, but Tom was skeptical—historically, he wanted to know, "how would they have known when one was approaching?" For his part, he wasn't praying. In the afternoon, he set up a mirror on a grip stand to reflect the sun, and then went down below to plant sunflower seeds. 

Meanwhile, I drove down the hill to an opening of a new bookstore on York. The intensity of the sun was hard to bear. My clothes felt uncomfortable, my skin too tight. Trying to avoid looking at the sun, I kept looking at it. Maybe it was this feeling of unease that contributed, but the bookstore opening was a bit of a letdown. I bought a used E.L. Doctorow for 3 bucks and drove home.

When I arrived, images of the eclipse were everywhere. 

Eclipse on wall, with Tom's Hat

On the side of the canyon
(reflection off mirror)
3 crescent moons reflected through Tom's Hat

After the moon had passed, I noticed a bluejay chasing a mockingbird through the trees, making a racket. What a relief to hear birds singing again! I took a walk around the hill and felt the day's intensity fading away. The lights over Highland park rose up, shimmering, as I descended into the cool night air.  

 Tom's hat

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hidden Treasures

Walking in Riverside Park with my friend Melissa. The giant oaks were dark with rain. 

We were heading north along the path she walks with her famous dog, Esau, when we came upon Grant's Tomb at 122 St. and Riverside Drive, in Morningside Heights.

If you ever go up to Grant's Tomb, be sure to wipe the smile off your face. The mausoleaum is a somber place, with a funereal NPS ranger inside answering questions—a park ranger so humorless and gray, he looked more dead than General Grant himself.

Grant shaking hands with Lincoln

Outside the tomb, we noticed some colorful mosaic benches surrounding the plaza and walked over to take a look: they were fantastic! They reminded me of Nikki de St. Phalle's Tarot Garden in Tuscany, which was influenced by Gaudi's Park Güell. I was convinced the benches were created by an artist, but M thought school children had a hand in making them.

I had to admit they were pretty wacky, and didn't make a whole lot of sense—an evil Mickey Mouse next to a blue-eyed bull...

...a Medieval damsel with a red-headed, black Pippy Longstocking.
A slave ship? Was it history? Someone's bad dream?

Who were these people?

Nothing was written about them, no plaques or signs, so, despite not wanting to, I entered the Tomb again and asked the park ranger if he knew who had made them.

"A Spanish artist named Gawwdy," he spat, stretching out Gaudi, like he wanted to throttle him.

"The Gaudi? From Barcelona?"

"Yeah," he said, in disgust.

"But why isn't there anything written about him?" 

"The NPS never wanted the benches in the first place; they don't belong here," he grumbled.

I couldn't believe what he was saying. A world renowned artist like Gaudi, and the National Park Service had ignored him? It couldn't be. It also seemed unlikely Gaudi had actually been up here, tucked away behind Grant's Tomb. 

We went back to M's apartment and googled. With a little sleuthing we found out this: the "Rolling Benches of Grant's Tomb" were created in 1972 by a group of artists and children, led by the Chilean-born NY artist Pedro Silva and the architect Phillip Danzig, under the auspices of CITYarts. The benches were inspired by Gaudi, but poor Gaudi had nothing to do with them.

At the time, the "Rolling Benches" were the largest public art project in the nation. But the NPS thought them unworthy of the highfalutiness of Grant's Tomb, so they threatened to remove them, even prying a section lose to see how difficult it would be to chuck the whole project in the Hudson.

But the project was saved, and in 2008, Silva returned with his son, and hundreds of neighborhood volunteers, to restore the benches, with some of the original artists.

One of them, Frieda Heldman, came back in 2008 to restore the bench she created in 1972
(website: CITYarts)

And here is her bench:
Dancer Bench by Frieda Heldman

More benches:
 Melissa under archway

We had stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Even though they've been abused and ignored by the NPS, these whimsical benches are still standing, just waiting to be appreciated one day. 

 (click on photos to see as slide show)