Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An Evening at Grand Central

By Adrienn Keszei

NEW YORK, NOV 17 — People glide relentlessly through the doors of Grand Central Station during the 5 pm rush hour. ”Excuse me” rings all around as harried New Yorkers try to pass quickly  through the terminal and keep out of each other’s way. A lady in the main concourse eyes the departure board anxiously for her delayed train’s gate assignment,  wishing good luck to the reporter but declining to answer her questions. A couple in the Transit Museum store is casually browsing the toys selection as their little son, standing on his toes, is gazing at small trains travel through the model railroad. In front of the Apple store on top of the stairs stand tourists, frantically trying to snap an Instagram-worthy selfie with the astronomical ceiling or the crowd below. From the underpass, paramedics are bringing up an intoxicated, injured lady, warning her to take better care of herself.

 Grand Central is a place where the rich and poor cross paths, a meeting place for the American and the immigrant, the New Yorker and the commuter, the homeward bound and the homeless. To some people it is the station where they beg for money, others change trains for subways here, and for others the trains are irrelevant. Rather, the terminal is the location of Joe’s where they can buy one of New York City’s best cups of coffee. When Gilanie Marion, who collects donations for the Salvation Army, wants a sweet snack, she always stops by Grand Central to get a huge cupcake at Crumbs. But this place also has a more symbolic meaning for her — a rite of passage.
“The only big event was when I was sixteen and I was finally allowed to come to Grand Central by myself to get on the train. I saw that huge clock and I thought, oh my god! Before I got sixteen, my mom was overprotective, in those years there were a lot of rapists and stuff like that. It is safer now...but you still got to watch out.”

There are indeed a lot of security guards, standing almost completely still at all exists of the station. If one also stops for a few minutes to observe the rhythm of Grand Central, the periodical changes of people entering from all sides become hypnotic. As trains arrive, people run through the halls, some listening to music, others still on the phone trying to arrange a meeting or catch their train. Soon the crowd transforms into a softer pattern of people walking slowly towards their destination. Sometimes there are a few precious seconds when things almost seem still for a moment, and then it all starts again, new trains and buses arrive, with new people coursing through the station like veins through a heart.

Diane Ganoga, who used to be a community development worker, highlights the importance of the terminal as a gathering place. 

“I was always about creating perfect places and spaces for communities, so when I see the influx of people and sort of everyone participating in this experience, it is so great, I love it!”

Rick Miner, who moved here in 1974, talks poetically about Grand Central while he is passing time between meetings. 
“This is such a different place than it was 20 years ago. It was horrible, it was dirty, it was very user-unfriendly. They took down a lot of the gross advertising that covered the whole place, and exposed the architectural bones of the facility. They made improvements. It’s a whole different environment, and it’s wonderful to see people using it. It is part of New York rising.”
One of the most memorable things for him was when he saw a man walking through here naked, completely drunk.
“It is not an everyday occurrence. But you also see the excitement and the romance of the city. You see couples meeting, people coming in from out of town, and you see frustration when trains are late. Everybody’s running, some people are excited to be going somewhere, others are frustrated, it’s sort of a microcosm of the city, but a nice microcosm.”

Grand Central means something different to everyone, but one way or another, it is part of the excitement of this metropolis. Contrary to first impressions, there is no chaos here - all those people coursing through the terminal’s many tunnels, like veins through the human heart, are tiny components of a well-oiled machine. Grand Central Station, like the clock in its lobby, is pulsating and changing every moment, but it is also a consistent and constant part of New York.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An evening in the life of a city

A snapshot of Manhattan life, November 17, 2017

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bryant Park on a chilly November night and what it means to New York City

By J.F. Mezo

NEW YORK, Nov. 20 – As winter draws closer and the days get shorter, by 5 PM every day, Bryant Park transforms into an unlikely winter wonderland with little kiosks blinking welcomingly at passers-by, and an ice rink situated at the centre of the maze of narrow paths that zigzag their way through the park. It doesn’t take long to succumb to the spell of the place – just upon entering the park after passing by the renowned New York Public Library, visitors find themselves walking through a dimly lit terrace littered with cast iron chairs and circular tables. Far from the café-like atmosphere the terrace has during the day, it is now mostly empty with the occasional occupant checking their phone time and time again, quite certainly waiting for a friend or perhaps an associate to join them.

‘It’s a good meeting spot for business people’ says David Stein, while slipping his cell phone into the side pocket of his chic trench coat. ‘It’s really convenient – all sorts of people come here’ he adds, now seemingly lost in thought, just before he turns around on one of those cast iron chairs to point towards a further corner of the park, that is engulfed by darkness. ‘Little kids play bocce over there during the summer; you know, the Italian game when you have to throw plastic balls into a circle – it’s kind of like curling.’

But the park’s popularity amongst kids doesn’t decrease during the autumn months, either. Just a couple of minutes of walking away from the terrace, there is carousel sitting at the intersection of two pathways, going round and round in a mesmerising mixture of mellow lights and accordion melodies. Most visitors seem to stop in their tracks for a while, joining the small crowd seated around the area, getting lost in the fantasy. Amongst them are Israeli-born Noa and her young son who is visibly fascinated by the colourful display.

‘We have been coming here for the past two years. Every evening, he just wants to watch the carousel go round and round – he doesn’t want to go up, though. Just watch.’

But Noa’s son is not the only one captivated by what Bryant Park has to offer. As one wanders closer and closer to the rink, there is a growing number of vendors offering everything from Christmas decorations to fancy jewellery in the shape of a snowflake. People – tourists and New Yorkers alike – are drawn in by the sparkles and the cheery Christmas tunes in the background, doing a fair bit of window-shopping in the process. As one nears the rink, the booths get sparklier and the music gets louder, until they reach a circle of food kiosks surrounding a fountain that is situated right before the ice rink.

The crowd thickens considerably by that point. Aside from passers-by, many are enjoying their hot beverages by the fountain, while others skate to the holiday songs of Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan. This is the true heart of Bryant Park, with families, couples and individuals chatting and snapping pictures wherever you turn. Amongst them is Paul Sanchez, who quickly declares the park the ‘heart of the city’, while also pointing out how safe the Bryant Park is. ‘The true significance of the place lies in that you can just come here and enjoy yourself. It’s extremely safe’ he says with a smile, while pointing towards the Empire State Building which looks nothing short of a gothic castle with purple lights climbing up its walls and the Moon in the background. ‘It’s also very well connected. You can go anywhere – visit the Empire State Building or the Library.’

And with New York’s very own Grand Central Station just five minutes away to offer convenient connections to locals and visitors alike, Mr. Sanchez might just be right. However, this Tuesday night at Bryant Park is not in the least about the rush. It’s about the magic of gingerbread houses selling sparkly holiday must-haves by dimly lit pathways, young adults buying steaming hot chocolate from the kiosks by the fountain, and families skating together on the ice rink. While life in the city keeps rushing by, Bryant Park is truly a place to forget about the hurry, relax, and soak in the holiday spirit.

A Night at the 9/11 Memorial

By Craig Moorhead

NEW YORK, Nov. 17 - The last time I visited the 9/11 Memorial was September the 11th of 2015, the 14th anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attack to occur on American soil. On that day, the square was packed with the bereaved and lachrymose. Men and women from all walks of life, including those in uniform, had come to commemorate that day of reckoning. Tonight I find a very different scene as I approach the Memorial Square. The night is very cold, and eerily silent for a place that was once at the center of the characteristic hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. Tonight those telltale sounds have been replaced with the tranquil calming of the waters of the twin fountains that mark the foundations where the former World Trade Center towers once stood. As I settle in to observe my surroundings I feel a bit of discomfort as a result of the atmospheric conditions. This is perhaps fitting, considering the gravity of what occurred here years ago.
On this evening, the crowd is thin. The recent cold snap may have driven many away, but some still linger. Of the few people present, most stand in solemn silence and respect. The other half are comprised of the polar opposite; the few who would rather smile and take selfies than honor the fallen. I ask a nearby security guard, who wished to remain nameless, about the types of visitors he witnesses each day. He agrees with my assessment, there is a dichotomy between those who come out of respect and those who come for the spectacle. For the latter group, this place which 14 years ago was filled with so much death and destruction is a tourist attraction. That selfie is just one more thing to cross off their bucket list. They do not see the memorial site for what it really represents. A monument to the fallen and a reminder of why we must remain ever vigilant in the ongoing struggle against terrorism.

To my surprise many French flags have found their way to the memorial alongside the more typically seen star spangled banner. Side by side with roses and other flowers, the placing of flags has become an informal tradition. These are frequently found left beside the names of the fallen that form the circumference of the north and south memorial pools. It would seem that for the people of New York, the 9/11 site has become a place where people come to honor and remember lives lost as a result of terrorism. Its role has grown to surpass its original purpose. Unfortunately in my lifetime 9/11 has become just one name in a long list of devastating acts of violence against the innocent. The memorial has become a gathering place to honor them all. Just days ago the One World Trade Center was illuminated with the colours of the French national flag, but as I look skyward this night the colours of its pinnacle spire have reverted to their normal state. I am struck by how quickly the world moves on to the next tragedy.

Of those few sojourners who have made their way here on this frozen evening, most congregate around the 'Survivor' tree, the near mythical piece of foliage that survived the flames and the smoke of that fateful day. It is a single piece of life shrouded in so much darkness and death. I think for many it stands as a symbol of hope and today it is encircled by tokens of condolence, countless bouquets of flowers which obscure the base of two pairs of flags, French and American.

As I wait and watch more people funnel out of the cold into the 9/11 Museum, choosing to pay their respects indoors rather than brave the elements. A group of women wish each other well and go their separate ways. Some passersby do not even stop to observe the monument that stands before them and neglect to interrupt their phone conversations as they pass by what in effect is a mass grave site.. This is 'just another day' for them, and the memorial garden is just part of their commute. Why do they pass by, not sparing a single second to remember and respect something that is bigger than all of us? As I think about what this says about the meaning of the 9/11 Memorial to New Yorkers, I turn to introspection for a potential answer. Personally, I do not like to go to the memorial too often. Though 9/11 was an important moment in my life and in the lives of so many, I find the more often I come here the more desensitized I am to the horror of what this place represents. Things are not always what they seem, and apparent indifference may be a mask for inner turmoil that is simply too great to be expressed on a daily basis. Perhaps, for these men and women who are forced to experience this every day, they have become numb to the tragedy that radically changed the world of today. While understandable, to do so in my opinion risks failing to heed the infamous warning, that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Down By Bluestockings

By Ian Kessler 

 LOWER EAST SIDE, Nov. 17 - The sun has already set as I walk along East Houston Street. The sky has a streak of hot red clouds on the horizon. Neon headlights and ruddy billboards light the scene of a once grungy neighborhood. 

A turn onto Allen Street brings a gush of golden leaves as they whip around the corner and down the darkening street. I am instantly transported back to a month earlier. A couple of my friends and I were wandering through Chinatown but couldn’t figure out what to do. One had just turned twenty one that week but the other didn’t have an ID. She’s twenty. 

My friend Rachel said we should go check out this “really cool anarchist bookstore!” Apparently it was close by and we couldn’t help but be curious.

We walked through the doors of Bluestockings and it was even better than the cliche I had imagined. This was not just any bookstore. The floor was packed but quiet. An author was on tour speaking the subject her new book, a woman who had given her life for the Cuban Revolution.

On this night a month later, I walk through the doors yet again. The store is calm this time and I’m free to peruse without the hassle of the crowd. A couple members sort books as others work the counter and coffee. The walls are covered in counter-culture and OWS art. The shelves are filled with titles on radical feminism, anarchism, race studies, queer studies, Marxism, smut and even sci-fi. They have mainstream titles too, of course. Many would certainly be banned in a more repressive country. Some authors immediately stick out to me: Naomi Klein, Paulo Friere, Chomsky, Foucault, Marx.

The people here are so strange and beautiful. Some bedazzled with stick-and-poked fingers bedecked by avant-garde rings. Others in plain blue collar clothes. I was glad I took off my tie in the F train. 

I walk to the man at the cash register. He is clothed in black, with thin long hair, gauges in his ears and blue tattoos on his arms. I started asking him about the store—about its history. He directed me to a collective member. As I wait to talk to her they offer me some ceylon tea free.

I ask her name, she replies, “My name is Rachel Levy, my pronouns are she/her/hers.” I instantly respond, “Oh my friend who first brought me here’s name is Rachel!” As we introduce ourselves we quickly discover we’re both Jewish. “Shalom! Chag sameach! “It’s all in the tribe!” Definitely a warm hello.

Rachel has been coming to Bluestockings since 2005 and has been working at the store since 2013. During the day she works as a social worker at an HIV clinic. She begins with her well-practiced elevator speech, “Bluestockings is a collectively-run politically progressive trans-inclusionist feminist bookstore, fair trade cafe and community space. Everything we do here revolves around ideals of social justice.” 

Promptly she asking me if I knew what “bluestockings” meant. Too be honest I had no clue. Rachel illuminated me, “Bluestockings was a pejorative term for women who read back in the early 1900s.” 
Turns out despite the trope on feminist bookstores, there are only thirteen remaining in the US and Canada. In the 90s there used to be hundreds! In fact, although founded in 1989, the store almost closed after 9/11 because of financial reasons and the changing neighborhood. In 2003, Brooke Lehman saved Bluestockings. It was reborn as a collective and expanded well beyond its previous mission.

Rachel explains a collective model is practice—social justice practice: “We’re trying to undo the shitty hierarchies of professionalism that take place in a work place. We’re trying to be an environment where people are respected and affirmed and where there is a lot of mutual learning and growth. As opposed to Capitalism which runs off of the labor of others; like there’s an owner and then there’s employees that work for that owner who are inherently going to be exploited because the owner is making money off of them. In a workers coop there’s even investment and there’s not a boss and employees, there’s an even split which undoes some of the shitty elements of capital.”

If you could please, promptly picture some neocon’s head comically popping like a balloon with a whimsical sound effect as it deflates. 

No one at Bluestockings is paid, all funds go to keeping books on the shelves, keeping the lights on and paying the rent. The roughly 70 volunteers, most working on average three hours a week. The business is run democratically. Collective members must be voted in and number four to six people at anytime, bearing the most commitment and responsibility .

A lot of groups and clubs pop up organically, holding events many nights a week. Some being Black & Pink which is an LGBTQ prisoner support group, Radical Educators, a Feminist Bookclub, a Feminist Masculinities class and Icarus Project which is a radical mental health group offering peer support. The space is free for both presenters and participants at events and will never be turned away for lack of money.

Another volunteer later said, “We’re about being able to challenge hegemony and oppression. That just guides what we do here.” Bluestockings is truly a mecca for radical activism in New York City. Even two members of Pussy Riot have held a clandestine event here! 

Bluestockings just signed a five year lease and continues to grow its revenue every year. It hopefully doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.

In the words of Betsy, the store’s longest standing member, “I hope that we’re around forever, I hope that we’re around till New York City’s under water.”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

An Evening at Brooklyn Bridge

Text and Photography by L. Boshuyzen

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!

Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg’d waves!

Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me;

Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!

Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!

Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!

Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!

115; 83 Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Leaves of Grass, Whitman, 1900.

 NEW YORK, Nov. 17— For more than a hundred years New Yorkers have walked the Brooklyn Bridge to step from one world into the other, and they have mainly done so because of work; consciously deciding to commute or being forced by circumstance. Whiteman, born and raised in Brooklyn, focused on the commuter’s experience during their daily journey, dedicating several poems to the crossing of the river.

With more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists crossing this national historic landmark every day[1], but what is left of the experience?  To find this out two and a half hours were spent at the Brooklyn Bridge on a crisp Tuesday evening from 5 till 7:30 pm. During this time the bridge gave passage to countless bikers, and runners, some strolling couples, calling commuters, friends in consultation, police, photographers, musicians hurriedly walking their instruments back to warmth, two scarcely clad girls despite the 46ºF bravely involved in an amateur photoshoot, and a man singing in Hebrew his payots swinging softly at the pace of his walk. And then there are of course the tourists. 

“Take a look New York!” “Let’s go New York, let’s go!” When pointed to the fact that, surely he must be catering to tourists there comes an unexpected response: “Everyone in New York is a New Yorker. People from all over the world—they make up New York.” This astute observation belongs to a street vender who introduces himself as Antoine Williams, but the look on his face suggests something like "If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you…" Bridges, hats, trinkets postcards… What he sells isn’t specifically tailored to the Brooklyn Bridge, and Antoine explains that he stands at places all over New York, and sometimes he needs to fight for his place to set up.

Picture does not portray Antoine Williams

A new batch of “New Yorkers” eagerly flock to his stand, asking him the price of that ‘selfie-stick’ to which Antoine replies it’s “just five dollars Ms” before continuing his siren call: “Take a look New York!” “Let’s go New York, let’s go!”. Walking towards the Eastern River his calls blend in with the traffic before the bridge slowly lets its pedestrians rise above the tumultuous scene.

Despite the cold wind three ladies take their time to walk this bridge, bright-eyed and with shopping bags in their hands. Niamh, Catherine and Valerie flew in from Dublin Ireland yesterday. Valerie is turning 50—“You never think you’ll actually do it, but we decide to go for it this year!” Valerie says. When asked about their bridge experience they describe it as very scenic: “We especially made sure to walk back from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and not they other way around, because the scenery is best this way.” “We asked many New Yorkers how to do this, it was quite complicated you see, but they didn’t really seem to grasp the concept. I don’t think they still see the beauty of this walk.” Niamh says.  

Leaving the lavish snapshotting behind, it would still be easy to distinguish the tourists from the New Yorkers—their leisurely pace immediately betrays that this is not the city they wake up in every morning. New Yorkers walk with purpose, even when that purpose is fairly undefined.  

So does Anna, who is on her way home from Manhattan to her flat in Brooklyn. Faced with the allegation of the three Irish tourists, she exclaims, (while barely slowing down her pace) “Oh no, the views are definitely the main reason I walk the Brooklyn bridge every night after work, I’ve been doing it for 13 years, it never gets old!”.  Yes, there are days that she doesn’t like it, and there are days when she gets irritated “specially when I can’t walk because people keep cluttering the lane.” What she get out of it? “It’s good exercise.” And after a small pause: “It clears the head.” 

An older man in trench coat doesn’t fit the mould—walking slowly although clearly not a tourist, one can sense he walked this bridge many times. When the light of the bridge glides over his face, turned slightly to the waterside, two wet streaks on his cheeks catch the light.
Elevating her pedestrians above the bustling traffic, with the wind blowing carelessly over the water and the east river flowing freely underneath, this bridge becomes the place to reflect, find, relinquish. The east river seems unclaimed territory between two worlds, the bride every so shortly suspending entry. The Brooklyn Bride becomes a rite of passage—a rite of passage into contemplation. A small repose before plunging into whatever it is that is waiting for them on the other side. 

[1] source: nyc.gov

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Journalists at the Heart of the Ebola Outbreak

By Adrienn Keszei
Nov 2, 2015

I found The Ebola Story very appealing not only because it provided valuable, expert information about the spread of the disease, but because of the human stories that helped the detached foreign readers identify with those suffering through the epidemic. Although these articles are not classic investigative pieces, since the outbreak was heavily publicized, and there was no conspiracy behind it to reveal, the journalists used an investigative approach when they travelled to Ebola-stricken countries to get the full story. 

Access, especially in this particular case, was key to ensuring that readers around the world get credible and insider reporting that is not based on details acquired from other news organizations, but includes the hands-on experiences of those involved in the battle against the deadly virus: the experiences of the doctors and patients in Africa. The journalists involved in the writing of these articles provided an authentic and diverse picture about the Ebola outbreak, often risking their own safety, or to be more exact, their lives. 

The sourcing of these stories is first-class. The journalists used a wide variety of sources that verify the credibility of the stories told. Officials working for the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or Doctors Without Borders are all quoted. Information was also received from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Guinean Health Ministry, and hospital workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. With all the information acquired from the sources above, the journalists could provide hard facts about the disease, the numbers of those who died of Ebola, details about the (insufficient) budgets provided to battle the virus, the magnitude of the outbreak, or the reasons of the delayed response and the failure to track how the virus was spreading. 

However, what made these articles especially fascinating were the stories about everyday people living inside the epidemic, experiencing the cruelty and the unimaginable speed of the virus every second of every day. These people may not be experts, but they possessed first-hand knowledge about Ebola, as most of those quoted in the articles had lost family members, friends, or colleagues within a span of only a few days. The reporting largely relied on the information provided by officials and stories shared by average people, and at no point could I detect opinionated writing or biased commentary. 

The photos were also an important factor in making the writing transparent. When the author talked about how Ebola destroys relationships because people cannot touch their loved ones, this phenomenon is illustrated with photos about patients isolated from others, with the shocking sight of small children lying on the ground in agony, and completely alone. The excellent photo journalism contributed to the credibility and authenticity of the reporting.

I admire the journalists involved in the writing of this series of articles because they did not hesitate to go to hospitals or sit in ambulances where probably hundreds of Ebola patients have died before. This is why I doubt there could be any hidden motive behind these articles. The bravery and integrity of these journalists has been proven by their willingness to go to the heart of the Ebola outbreak and I seriously doubt that they would falsify or omit information to endanger the credibility of the stories that they risked their lives to produce.