As a tour guide I am supposed to tell people how wonderful New York City is...I do. But they don’t see that Harlem is now only 40% black, overrun by self-righteous white yuppies renovating Harlem’s brownstones pushing the original residents out. Greenwich Village once an epicenter of gay culture, dance clubs, cool quirky shops, cutting edge boutiques is now devoid of anything gay, buried in GAP, Polo, Starbucks, Sephora, Michael Kors, more GAP, more Polo, more Michael Kors. (Btw, Michael Kors being a screaming queen doesn’t count.)
The mushroom rate of the ‘space needle’ über high, über rich residential high rises on 57th and 58th Streets will put parts of Central Park’s south end into permanent shadow at certain times of the year. Jackie Onassis is turning in her grave.
Jackie O. would also be horrified to discover that grand Central Terminal is to be encased in super tall, super glassy high rises, therefore dwarfing the spectacular station, reducing it to a needle in a haystack.
Tribeca and Soho once filled with artists and art spaces are now filled with tourists artfully shopping. Times Square has become a 2nd rate shopping mall filled with Elmos badgering your for $5 photos. The lower east side aka ‘the Bowery’ is rapidly loosing any trace of our large immigrant history. It IS filled with our ‘new immigrants’ the young rich, spacey Millennials, trust fund babies and tech company millionaires. Apartments costing $1 million in the Bowery are cheap.
Little Italy is nothing but 6 or so blocks of Italian restaurants trying to hang on while the Chinese and the stores of Soho eat up their once large thriving Italian neighborhood. Fuggedaboudit.
New York’s harbor was once the busiest harbor in the world. Today, with a combination of damage from hurricane Sandy and the sheer greed of the Bloomberg/DeBlasio real estate ‘developers’, in South Street Seaport nothing will be left but a few gratuitous red brick buildings and only one old sailing ship to be now surrounded by a mirror glass ersatz ‘Pier 17’ and two gigantically tall mirror glass ‘luxury towers’ encroaching on America’s historical land mark the Brooklyn Bridge.
Go to Brooklyn then you say? Oh no, that is being gentrified at a hyper speed such has been never witnessed before in America. The foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is now being encased in a towering glass apartment building in DUMBO and the once spectacular view of the bridge from the Brooklyn Heights promenade is now obliterated by a gigantic apartment complex. If anyone would have told me that one day the views of the Brooklyn Bridge will be gone, I’da said you’re nuts.
Further in Brooklyn, whites buying $1+ million town homes in Bedford–Stuyvesant is now the norm. What was once our largest African American neighborhood, now has it’s residents being forced to go back to their Southern roots where they might be able to afford the rent. Meanwhile ultra hipster Williamsburg battles it out with ultra orthodox Satmar Jewish Williamsburg for real estate, who will win is anybody’s guess.
Hey, but Hans you’re safe in Queens. Not so, as my neighborhood fights off the flood of ‘poor upper middle class’ who can’t quite afford the $500,000 to $1 million dollar glass towers of the East River’s Long Island City. One by one we are seeing the affordable shops disappear, street vendors forbidden and a slimey corrupt councilman like Jimmy Van Bramer sign off on real estate deals wiping places like the spectacular 5 Pointz Graffiti Museum and the immigrant’s car-repair shops of Willet’s Point off the map while he brown noses his way up in the mayor’s administration.
If anyone has noticed, I haven’t posted daily “Photos of the Day” since mid June, I needed time to reflect. I will continue to tell people how ‘wonderful’ New York is, but I will also tell them that the city is an illusion, a big grand, sparkling, smoke & mirrors illusion. With my camera I will try to find something worth capturing that someone’s cell phone camera has not. My main concentration will be on researching and writing a book about my Von Rittern land baron roots in Bremen, Germany, and a second book on my Broadway stage door memories.
In the meanwhile, my German guests, while taking my tours say to me, “Sadly, it’s happening in Germany too, capture it while you can.”
Photo of the day: VISITING OUR NEW YORK WHITE HOUSE – “You’re invited: Open house with Mayor de Blasio at Gracie Mansion Date: 12/18/2013 12:12:41 P.M. Eastern Standard Time”
When on December 18, at 12 minutes past noon I received an email inviting me to meet the new mayor at the formerly closed Gracie Mansion – I clicked the “reserve” button without a second’s hesitation. This was the final symbolic dig at the elitist mayor Bloomberg who distanced himself from ordinary working people as much as possible, after all, we can’t afford to fund big condo projects.
Sunday January 5th came and it was a bleak, cold, wet, foggy, icy and rainy day. A few of my friends debated whether to head out in this weather. Not me, a full blown blizzard could not have kept me away! Every person on line would be another twist of the knife in Bloomberg’s back.
I arrived at 11:15 and the lines we already half way through Carl Schurz park surrounding the mansion. I was greeting by friendly park rangers who led me to friendly police who led me to friendly volunteers to show me my spot on line. The volunteers made every effort to assure me that the misery of standing out in this weather would be lessened by hot cocoa and cider, wandering musicians and heating tents. Portable bathrooms where everywhere, every detail had been thought of. No one complained, no one groused about the weather. There was a feeling of excitement and accomplishment in the air, we the people had done it and this was our lucky reward. We were doted on by the volunteers with warm smiles and cheery attitudes, “more cider?”, “more cocoa?”, “let me throw that away for you.”
The mood was infectious, no pushing, no shoving, no griping, just busy texting “I’m here!” as the rain poured down our umbrellas and onto our backs. As the rain let up, people were so excited they were doing ‘the wave’ on line! (No one ever did ‘the wave’ on line waiting to meet Grinch Bloomberg!) At 12 noon came the most wonderful odd assortment of unique wandering musicians ranging from opera singers to a melodica (hand blown air accordions) band complete with giant tuba and the best of all – a marching electric guitar band complete with their own amplifiers and power source strapped to their waists, you would never had seen that at a Bloomberg event, they stole the show!
12:30 noon I got near the mansion, we were given a card to fill out with our names and email address so that they could mail us our ‘photo with Bill’. Are you kidding?! We thought, ‘ok, we’ll see him, say hello,’ but to have DeBlasio’s people perfectly organize to have each and everyone of our pictures taken with him and then send them to us, left many absolutely giddy with surprise. This was like waiting in line for Santa Claus.
At the door the security tent hardly felt like “security”, the police were so polite, so helpful, no tension in the air, no airs of suspicion, just ‘hey folks, just this one more step and you get to see him.’ Was this for real? Up the steps to the mansion I went. At every entrance, corner and room we were met by obliging volunteers and docents warmly welcoming us. I am a born and raised New Yorker of 58 years and I have never been inside Gracie Mansion – 99% of us had never been inside either. Cameras were clicking like mad, selfies galore. The Christmas tree was still up, since Doomberg hadn’t lived here it was poorly and sparsely decorated (the DeBlasios will change that), but…if you looked up to the top, the tree topper is a miniature Gracie Mansion!
We were steeped in history. The Federal style mansion was built in 1799 by Scottish born shipping magnate Archibald Gracie. In 1942, builder Robert Moses convinced Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to appropriate the house as a mayoral residence. It’s main two floors are open to the public on a limited basis for guided tours, and serve as a small museum. It has not been occupied for the past 20 years. This is our New York White House. The buzz in the house was like that of an opening night in the theater and we were about to meet the star of the show. The line snaked through the historic old house as the press eagerly interviewed and filmed the people on line. “This is a historic event. It is even more so, because it’s a symbolic a stab at Bloomberg. I feel as if a black 12 year old cloud has been lifted and this is the colorful dream I have awakened to, I am bursting with pride and joy” I said to a reporter.
Our final room to see was the dining room where Bill, his wife Chirlane, and children Dante and Chiara will have breakfast and their family meals. The dining table was complete with official New York City seal placemats, I just have plain cloth at home J . It has a wonderful view of the east river through the trees of the park. Final stop – meet Bill.
Yet again the Gracie Mansion staff surprised us, they made sure our email name cards weren’t wet, we were asked whether we wanted our photo taken with or without our coats on. They provided a table were we could place, our coats in order. It was managed like a well oiled machine. Then . . . there he was, all 6’7” of him. As warm as a figure he his, his height is a bit imposing.
He had taken a break to talk to one of his staff members, so I had to wait. When finished, he turned to me outstretched his arms and joyfully and proudly said “welcome to Gracie Mansion, the people’s house!” I almost forgot what I wanted to say to him! I said: “After fighting so hard against Quinn, this is such a joyful experience, thank you!” We posed, he turned to me grabbed and squeezed my hand and said “you guys did hero’s work.” I felt like a billion dollars ! (I am waiting for the official photo to be sent to me.)
He patiently and above all in good humor, shook 7,000 hands, listened to 7,000 greetings/complaints, wishes and concerns and smiled for 7,000 photos – god bless him! Upon leaving, my coat was properly waiting for me and no one was given the expected bums rush out. People were just giddy with excitement and took their time leaving, no one rushed us as we took out beaming final pictures on the back porch of the mansion –
Photo of the day: PERSON(S) OF THE YEAR – DONNY MOSS AND THE TEAM OF JONATHAN MERES (ONE) COHEN AND MARIE FLAGEUL
Photo of the day: PERSON(S) OF THE YEAR – DONNY MOSS AND THE TEAM OF JONATHAN MERES (ONE) COHEN AND MARIE FLAGEUL
– I have not ever had such a hard decision to come up with just one person to say they had most affected my life and the lives of the people around them. In such a tumultuous political year it has to be three people, Meres and Marie acting as one force. And by NO means choosing three people does it diminish in any way how important these three powerful people are.
I feel can be held responsible for almost single handedly destroying the political career of mega powerful New York councilwoman and bully Christine Quinn. She is a bully that represented every horrible thing that Mayor/dictator Bloomberg had done to destroy New York City in his 12 years in office. It is Quinn that alone saw to it that the laws were ‘changed’ so that Bloomberg could run for a third term in 2009 against the will of the people. With that, the slaughter of the middle class and it’s neighborhoods continued. This took New York City from 3 classes of citizens: lower, a strong middle and always upper class to a tapestry of investment bankers, real-estate developers, and Russian oligarchs. Then Donny’s release of a 2009 YouTube video exposing her two-faced betrayal of her own (she’s a lesbian) gay community and her horrific anti-animal rights stances exposed her to New York City. The most important and powerful was his documentary “Christine Quinn – Behind the Smile.” Most people thought Donny was nuts, an animals rights fanatic. Well that changed quickly as his persistent voice released more and more videos and more and more people began to listen.
When Gray Line was forcing the live tour guides (me) out of our jobs in favor of pre-recorded tours, because of a Quinn fake anti-noise bill, Donny sought me out to let me know of his fight against Quinn. I dismissed him as a fanatic, after all, Quinn couldn’t possibly be THAT horrible . . . she was worse. I listened to Donny and I jumped on board with Donny’s fight, the tour guides joined and my big mouth got many people to join Donny. Wonderful, wonderful loving animal rights activist groups and anyone that hated Bloomberg and wanted to save NYC joined us. We protested at everyone of her public appearances and taunted her mercilessly. Our numbers grew, as did our budget. We handed out flyers during rush hour at subway stations, bus and ferry terminals. My mother was one of his staunchest supporters, never leaving her house without Donny’s literature to hand out in the neighborhood. People began to listen and the animal rights people, the minorities, the middle class and passionate celebrities formed an army. ABQ = Anyone But Quinn! People like Cynthia Nixon, Susan Sarandon and the entertainment community brought their fame, money and passion to the public’s eye. These people already hated Quinn, but I insist that is Donny’s persistent, passionate, intelligent voice from the beginning opened everyone’s eyes. Quinn’s poll numbers began to plummet from leader of the mayoral race to 3rd or 4th place, week after week.
On November 5, 2013, Bill de Blasio won the mayoral election by a landslide, receiving over 73% of the vote and will become the first Democratic mayor of the city in nearly 20 years. Thank you Donny Moss for giving me my city back!
M+M, JONATHAN MERES (ONE) COHEN and MARIE CECILE FLAGEUL:
A forceful team, together they ARE 5 Pointz/ “the institute of higher burning“, the curators of the leading world’s graffiti and street mural art museum and mecca that was destroyed by the cruel vindictive whitewashing of the building in the middle of the night on November 19 of this year by Gerry Wolkoff. Words almost fail me to describe the incredible joy and privilege I have of being their friends. My heart is so deeply full of the pleasure they have brought to the entire world through their tireless efforts to have made 5 Pointz bigger and better year after year. I had come for years as an enthralled neighbor to support the saving of 5 Pointz. Then it then dawned on me that as a tour guide, this was the ultimate New York experience to bring my guests there as a surprise last stop. Over the years I had gained Meres’ and Marie’s trust by never betraying them or their art, by never pretending to be anyone else but someone who passionately loved this mesmerizing art. I thrived on the surprised looks on my tourist guest’s faces as they approached the loading dock and where overwhelmed by the fantastic colors and phantasmagorical art work. I felt like a million dollars sharing this with them.
Marie fiercely defended the illegal filming on the site, but saw to it that has been included in countless films, music videos and blogs. Meres saw to it that fellow writers and artists respected the sight and oversaw all the murals that would dazzle your imagination, resulting in world wide recognition as the premier street art museum. 200,000-square-feet (19,000 m2) of dazzling imagination from all over the world. Meres’ signature light bulbs are now recognized all over the world. Did you know that if look up any travel guide, 5 Pointz is listed as the #1 thing to see in Queens? – you can thank the brilliance of Meres and Marie for that. Meres’ 5 Pointz tours via SideTours was their #1 attraction and would sell out rapidly when new dates were announced. You felt so very special taking his tour, plain and simple = it was just so fucking cool! New York City owes them a big commission check for all the tourist money they brought to New York, Queens and especially Long Island City.
But one of the most powerful gifts they have given to so many and I have been lucky enough to receive, is their bringing together one of the most diverse group of people from across the city and the globe who otherwise never would have met and shared such passion, joy and fun. Art unites, art opens your eyes and hearts, art can even save lives. Meres and Marie united the world through the brilliance of Meres’ artful vision and Marie’s passion. To say “thank you et merci” almost doesn’t seem enough . . .