Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away

context, because this former travel blog evolved into a weight loss and running blog over the last decade. I actually thought of reactivating my Tumblr for this instead, but decided this is not a subject which I can stomach trolls on.

***

Sixteen years ago I was in Prague in January. I didn’t make it to Poland then and deeply regretted not visiting Auschwitz & Birkenau. When I returned to Prague for a summer abroad program in grad school in 2007, Poland was at the top of the weekend sojourn list. That month also included Berlin and Terezin

Much of that blog is lost to a prior crash, but some remains thanks to the Internet Archive:

Some of it will always remain: the raw authenticity of Birkenau, purchasing & reading Night in Krakow while waiting for the train back to Prague.I started this post a week ago but held it until today and in the mean time. I was walking to a meeting on Tuesday and Tim McGraw’s The Book of John came on my iPod:

The Polaroids are just reminders,
You can’t hold life in a three ring binder

In the days before everything had to be photographed “just right” for social media, it was a lot easier to be present. I knew I had this photo and went looking for it, but I didn’t need it to remember the moment.

still haunting, 12 years later

The original caption on that photo, when uploaded to Facebook several years later:

“It’s wrong to say I loved it, but this trip moved me in so many ways. By far the most powerful view at Birkenau. I could see and feel the ghosts, especially after reading Night.”

Like Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, I believe Auschwitz is a place that everyone should visit. It is the best way to learn from history. I didn’t do the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as I just couldn’t, but finally made it to DC’s in 2014 and visited Yad Vashem in 2009.

***

On Thursday morning, May 2, a colleague and I attended the preview of Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away, the largest Holocaust exhibit in the US and:

“the first exhibition to feature major loans of artifacts from the former Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, is currently on display in Madrid and has drawn some 600,000 visitors. It will open in New York on May 8 — the date of the Nazi surrender in 1945.”  ~ The Horrors of Auschwitz at a Museum in New York, New York Times.

This exhibit builds in some ways on the museum’s 2014 exhibit, A Town Known as Auschwitz, and, as noted in a review (English) of the Spanish exhibit, seeks to spread Auschwitz’ history to a larger audience.

Auschwitz was more than a death camp, but its German name has become synonymous with hate, fear and death. The exhibit opens today, May 8th, the anniversary of the Nazi surrender. The date that haunted me through the exhibit was that April 30 – the day of Hitler’s suicide – was just a few days before my visit.

They recommended 90m to walk through the exhibit and somehow that wasn’t quite enough. Some of the items on view were expected in terms of what is often found at a Holocaust exhibit or museum: shoes, glasses. luggage left behind by those who were no longer there to use them. The luggage hit me hardest-so many packed as if they would for a short holiday. Seeing the German rail car out front of the museum just brought that home and hard.

I took a few photos, but mostly just took in the information. There is a lot to read and a lot was new to me even as someone who studied the Holocaust. The simplicity of it is what lingers with me a week later.

Powerful words by Charlotte Delbo

my inner Japan, 2016

You can take the girl out of Japan, but you can’t take the Japan out of the girl. Specifically, the love of cherry blossoms ingrained in me in April 2002 in Himeji and then again during April 2006 in Hiroshima.

This El Nino’ed winter meant an early and short peak for this year’s blossoms. I was hoping to get to Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend because I don’t think the blossoms will last until Sakura Matsuri later this month, but it’s supposed to snow. Oh Mother Nature. So much for some April steps.

These are the last few weeks, mostly in Central Park, and a mad cap dash through the Park today before they all freeze tomorrow.

Welcome back, NYC’s High Bridge

A year to the day after I finished my “last major bridge crossing“, I got to walk across the one that has teased me for most of my #GreatManhattanLoop – ing.  After 40-45 years (depending on who is counting) and some $61m, the High Bridge reopened this week.

“The High Bridge is the city’s oldest bridge, dating back to 1848, and stands 140 feet tall, 2,000 feet long and stretches between about West 173rd Street in Manhattan and West 170th Street in the Bronx” ~Zoe Rosenberg

and I’d venture to guess, it’s least known until the press around its reopening hit this week. I couldn’t make it up for the opening on Tuesday (due to an amazing EmptyMet Tour), but knew I wanted to do it as soon as possible. With a walk up Broadway occupying yesterday, today was it.

Tip: Google Maps doesn’t yet know where it is without the coordinates, so use those provided by the Parks’ Department to get to the Park. Failing that, if going from the Manhattan side, High Bridge Tower will get you close enough that you’ll see the stairs.

After a few false starts in getting past 106th St, the m101 took me practically to the Bridge’s door step. Entering High Bridge Park at 172nd, the new signs are immediately apparent-and exciting! While it’s possible to cross between the Bronx and Manhattan on some of the Harlem River Bridges (Macombs Dam likely the most famous), it isn’t as pleasant when there are cars mere feet away.

It’s just a quick five minute walk through Manhattan’s High Bridge Park to the EVIL stairs down. One look at them and one limp down and I knew I’d be using the accessible exit to leave the Park. While many comparisons are made to the High Line, the comparison I most found myself drawing was Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson. The High Bridge is much shorter at about 2,000 feet but with it’s north and south views and virtual panorama of NYC, it was stunning.

I took my time lingering both on the span and in the small park on the Bronx end for reading and photos, but even with reading and photographing all the historical markers, the bridge itself takes about half an hour to explore. The markers are by far my favorite for the way they tell the span’s history. That will be especially helpful once the re-opening press dies down and people search out the history.

TIP: Some more great historical photos here and the best writeup I’ve found of the Bridge’s history.

Although it doesn’t appear that the bridge will ever be open at sunset, I’d like to be there closer to sunset as I think the views will be amazing. With the afternoon sun, walking toward Manhattan is a challenge and photos just don’t seem to work. However I love how it looks when overcast – layer of eeriness and history to it.

Although the restored bridge links Manhattan and the Bronx in a way that hasn’t been possible in generations, I think its relative inaccessibility (an hour plus from the Upper East Side) will keep the numbers down. There’s something to be said, however, for the restoration of High Bridge Park on the Manhattan side as well. Without that and the increased visitation that came with it, I don’t think the Bridge gets done.

Much like the Saunter, I ended my wander up to the High Bridge at Coogan’s Bluff. Partially due to avoiding climbing back up the stairs into High Bridge park and partially to see if going via the M2 was any quicker than the M101. Mostly as an excuse to see the Brush stairs again when my feet didn’t hurt as much as they did at the end of the Saunter. Yep, still magical. Still living baseball history.

The M2 wasn’t any faster especially as the first bus randomly went out of service at 110th, but it was a nice end to an exploratory day.

Confessions of a Designated Fat Taxi Driver?

aka a two-in-one review because I started and finished two books in the last three days

Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver by Eugene Salomon and Jennifer Joyner’s Designated Fat Girl. Two very different subjects but the right level of reading depth I was in the mood for this weekend. I started with Joyner’s on Friday and packed a dead-tree copy of Salomon’s for a walk when I knew my iPad battery wasn’t charged. I finished that this morning and then Joyner’s this afternoon. At the gym, no less.

I enjoyed both equally, but I found that I connected more with Joyner’s book, although my weight struggles luckily never went so far. I’m so glad to see she’s still working at the radio station and it’s nice to put a face to the name after reading about her personal struggles. Unlike many who publish a book about their struggles, Joyner doesn’t appear to blog. I think that’s what made for a more intriguing and cohesive narrative. It wasn’t cobbled together from a series of blog posts. There were a few moments where I was confused as to when a moment was during her weight gain-loss-gain-loss-gain-loss “for good” but overall it was a quality, eye-opening read.

Eugene Salomon, on the other hand both blogs (including on hot-button topics like Uber) and writes for TIME.I hoped his photo blog would have one of the infamous llama, alas no such luck. Converting from a blog wasn’t an issue in this case as the book was mostly an anthology of his stories grouped by themes. It was a very good and quick read and I loved that Salomon put a date in each story to set the context for his story.  Although this was only published in 2013, it’s mostly the story of an NYC long gone. Jackie O being gone for 20+ years though is just sad. As an aside, I got this at the wonderful Tenement Museum Shop-great place to direct deposit your wallet when looking for your next good read.

Oh and both titled counted for the A-Z challenge. 1/6 of the way through the year my totals are:

#GoTheDist? Pfft Bridge The Dist

after a renewed interest in bridges of late, I have been on a mission. By borough I have crossed as follows:

Bronx to Manhattan:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge  in May 2013

Manhattan to Brooklyn:

  • Brooklyn Bridge: more times then I can count, also via bike
  • Manhattan Bridge: June 2014
  • Williamsburg Bridge: Summer 2013

Manhattan to Bronx:

  • Macombs Dam Bridge

Queens to Manhattan:

  • Queensboro Bridge, June 2014

Other:

  • GW Bridge and back, July 2013
  • Wards Island Pedestrian Bridge, May 2013
  • Triboro (Randalls Island to Manhattan)

That’s all the major bridges with the exception of the Henry Hudson since there’s no pedestrian access on the Verrazano and the High Bridge has not yet re-opened. I really don’t have an interest in walking to the Rockaways so those are out.

What’s my next Great Manhattan Loop related goal? Riverside Drive! I’ve done it up as far as 125th St. but time to do the northern spur that I skipped in favor of a riverside walk two years ago.

Then and now: Eldridge Street Synagogue

Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street
Interior: Museum at Eldridge Street

“I made a couple of calls and believe the sign will be safe,” she said. And so, for the moment, would be one other vestige of the Jewish Lower East Side.

In reading In Chinatown, Remembering the Origins of a 126 -Year-Old Synagogue I did what I always do and go down a rabbit hole of research.

The Eldridge Street temple, the first synagogue built by Eastern European Jews on the Lower East Side, the was completed in 1887 to the designs of the Herter Brothers, architects. It is the home of Congregation Khal Adath Jeshurun with Anshe Lubtz, another congregation that joined after the building opened.

”An Orthodox synagogue follows the congregation,” Justice Bookson said, ”or the congregation follows the synagogue, because we can’t ride on the Sabbath.”

The Museum at Eldridge Street aka the Eldridge St. Synagogue is one of the prettiest buildings on the Lower East Side and one of the most amazing interiors in the city. It’s sad to think of how far it fell during the time that the Orthodox population of the Lower East Side dwindled. Sad, but not surprising, due to the general state of the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s.

Justice Bookson noted that the temple’s centennial is close to that of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. ”The immigrants passed by the statue,” he said, ”and came right here to this neighborhood. So we’re right on the mark. Of course, we hope to restore the synagogue with a lot less money.”

After the 90-minute gathering yesterday, after the applause and amens, the sanctuary was empty again. For now, it will remain silent. And waiting.

They did that, and even more.

Never mind the 126 year old Congregation, the Friends of the Eldridge Street Project is older than I am. By the time I started to work with the Museum in 2007, it was called the Eldridge Street Project and was in the middle of the grand reopening. The amazing Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival was seven years old and the museum/synagogue was well on the way to being the marquee tourist destination that it is.Kiki Smith’s wonderful window was installed three years later and it seemed as if the restoration was complete in time for the 125th anniversary.

I feel that I’m lucky to work so closely with the museum. I know more about it then the average NYC resident. Maybe even more than the average Culture Vulture, but there’s so much about which I wasn’t aware. The article about the grand reopening is an amazing overview of the building and congregation’s history. We as a city are lucky to still have it as a part of our present.

By the mid-1950s, without funds or a substantial congregation, the main sanctuary was sealed shut; only a remnant of the original congregation continued to use the smaller ground-floor study hall. Then, in 1971, the water-damaged main sanctuary was surveyed with astonishment by Gerald R. Wolfe, a New York University professor, who founded the Friends of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Fifteen years later, the preservationist and journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz was so taken by its latent promise that she started the Eldridge Street Project, helped obtain its landmark status and began a fund-raising drive that gradually brought the sanctuary back to life.

But what purpose could such a place serve if its religious function and community were gone? Rather than leave it a monument to an earlier faith, the Eldridge Street Project turned the building into a symbol of a contemporary, secular faith. In the 1990s, the synagogue, its renovation unfinished, became a museum, a center, in the words of the Project, “for historical reflection, aesthetic inspiration and spiritual renewal.”

I had no idea of the buildings parallels with a series of tenements in Alphabet City. The history of the Lower East Side is really a connected one. The Synagogue’s own restoration led to the discovery of a mikvah on the adjacent property at 5 Allen St (now a Howard Johnson)

A clay pipe or a pottery shard is a fine day’s work for an urban archaeologist. Celia J. Bergoffen found a bathhouse.

I’m fascinated by the Lower East Side’s history. That’s obvious each time I do one of the Conservancy’s tours (and return for more like I did this past Sunday). I contemplate moving there if I win the lotto, but sometimes I wonder if I like its present as much as its past.

Further Reading:

Henderson Place

Henderson Place Historic District sign on E. 86th St.
Henderson Place Historic District sign on E. 86th St.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve walked past these buildings on E. 87th or East End and wondered what relic they were… and then I spotted the sign above. I finally had a name to research. And what better time to do so then on the brink of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the New York City landmarks law.

Although not the oldest in the neighborhood (Gracie Mansion was built in 1799), they’re certainly the most picturesque.

Built in Queen Anne style in 1881-2, twenty four of the original thirty two houses remain. They were landmarked in 1969. The houses are named after John C. Henderson and were designed by Lamb & Rich. Sometimes called “dollhouse architecture“, they were built for people of “modest means” although they soon became home to some of Manhattan’s upper class families. Their history, like the architecture, is fascinating.

I’ve apparently added more small historic blocks to my NYC bucket list.

neighborhoods: mini cities in their own right

as I was taking advantage of today’s brief flirtation with spring, and sitting, reading on one of the many Finley Walk benches, I plotted several errands I needed to run. One of them was on 96th St. and it felt so far away-even though it was only 10 blocks from where I sat. I wasn’t even sure if the store was still there, which got me thinking.

I only moved from E. 95th 4.5 years ago, but it feels like much longer. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve walked through the neighborhood since then, and the last time was a hot day last summer***. Even though I’m only 12 blocks south (and was only 10 blocks south for the 1st three years), it feels like a world away. I have almost everything I need within blocks of 86th. It also explains why my then-new neighborhood of E. 85th felt so new to me when I moved.

It’s like many small cities within even the island of Manhattan.

Today was gorgeous enough that I could have had 10K steps, but sometimes reading in the sun is more important than 10K steps.

***This applies to the avenues east of 5th. I’ve of course been to Museum Mile many times since.

Review: This Ain’t No Holiday Inn

 

Chelsea Hotel
Hotel Chelsea, February 28, 2014

 

Yesterday, I was in Chelsea for lunch and I found myself thinking of the Chelsea and decided to find it. When I did, and posted the photo (and the one above), I remembered this unfinished review and blog post from earlier this year. Time to remove the “un”.

“In 2001, he died of everything he had ever done.” ~James Lough

While the author wrote this of one of the personalities he met while researching the Chelsea’s colorful history, the same could be said of the Chelsea Hotel itself.

“If any place will make you believe in ghosts, it’s the Chelsea.” ~Gabriella Bass

James Lough’s This Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Down and Out at the Chelsea Hotel 1980-1995 is an interesting look at the history of the hotel within that era of New York City history. Reading it now was an interesting parallel to the New-York Historical Society’s AIDS exhibit this summer as there was significant overlap in time, characters and storyline.

Continue reading “Review: This Ain’t No Holiday Inn”

The difference being a fan makes

Manning Baas pregame warmups
Manning Baas pregame warmups

It’s no secret that I’m a Yankees fan. I also happen to be a quick hop from the stadium via the 4 train. Makes going to games easy peasy. Although I’m a Yankees fan, I don’t particularly dislike the Mets, but I find myself declining tickets more than I go. Why? Not because of their poor play, but rather because there is no easy way from Flushing to the Upper East Side. I’m 8.1 miles as the crow flies from Citi Field and a 25 minute dive from the stadium. Via mass transit, it’s 50m in a best case scenario, which has maybe happened once in the 5+ years I’ve lived in this neighborhood.

On the other hand, I’m a die-hard Giants fan. Met Life is 11.2 miles and a 28 minute drive. Last night’s game ended at 12:02 AM. Luckily most had left early and my seats were near the Bud Light gate (and therefore the train) so I made relatively good time and made the Secaucus connection by 12:4x. Of course that wasn’t direct. It was 2:03 AM by the time I walked into my apartment after NJT to Penn, the E to 50th, the A to 86th and the m86. No better and honestly, probably worse than Citi Field.

Despite being exhausted at work today, I’m pretty sure I never turned down Giants tickets and certainly not free.

That’s the difference being a fan makes.

More photos from last night here.