Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nightly Terrors & Treats

 

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Halloween treats came early last night at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Raised on all things spooky, when I learned the New York Chapter of Horror Writers Association would be dropping in to host an evening of Night Terrors, I rang my brother who responded with “we’re there!”

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A chilly day outside the museum

Founded in 2014, the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a non-profit with a dark dance card of events and lecture series that are often sold out.   The idea for this popular space grew out of the Morbid Anatomy Library, a cabinet of curiosities created by Joanna Ebenstein’s blog. Situated near the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal, this somewhat desolate location beyond the strollers of Park Slope is an inviting spot for anyone looking to convene with other like-minded souls.

Last night six authors shared their tales, including Tonya Hurley, a New York Times best-selling author and the museum’s founding board member. Her popular novel series Ghostgirl is being adapted for the big screen.   In between readings, prizes were distributed to the audience member who had the best scream, or belted out the best zombie rendition of Happy Birthday, or who could name the actor who played Frankenstein in the 1931 film, for instance.

But it was the presence of the last writer, Jack Ketchum, which cast the biggest treat.   Ketchum, who’s been crowned “the scariest guy in America” by Stephen King, held us spellbound as he read his short story Bully. A four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association, last year he was honored with the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award…so you get we’re I’m coming from.

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Jack Ketchum

With the, dare I say, holiday season approaching the museum is a unique place to buy unusual gifts. It’s worth visiting to check out their offerings of t-shirts, classic and contemporary horror literature, Victorian jewelry, housewares, and one-of-a-kind animal taxidermy. While I find that last item kind of creepy, this type of collectible sells out quick.

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Kittens Wedding ceremony.

Some upcoming events to get your ghoul on include Psychedelics of Death, Minder Reader: An Evening With Vinny DePonto, and Bram Stoker: Something in the Blood (which I’ll be at for sure).   Their current taxidermy exhibit, Art, Science & Mortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding, closes on November 6. If you find the idea of dead kittens from the 1800s all dressed up in frills and ready to party off-putting, you might rest easy knowing it’s owned by, and on loan, from Sabrina Hansen, the founder of Aslan Cats, a sanctuary in the Catskills.

Local Spring Escape Plans

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With a constant barrage of cool and interesting things happening in and around New York City, choosing what to see and do can be like trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix. Now that winter seems to really be behind us, here are some good excuses to shed the coat and leave the house

Transitional Object: (PsychoBarn)
When the weather’s nice, it can be hard to commit to sticking yourself inside a museum. The recent installation on the Met’s Roof Garden is the perfect solution. British artist Cornelia Parker’s inspiration for her latest project came from the house in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Part barn, part movie set, the rooftop setting offers a killer view.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk
With their fast and furious punk songs, the Ramones didn’t just influence a movement but pop culture and art as well. For lovers of this band, the retrospective exhibit at the Queens Museum isn’t just a bittersweet walk down memory lane but a unique experience to surround yourself in everything that made you come alive when you bopped and bounced around to music from the guys from Forest Hills who became the house band at CBGB. It’s also a great way to introduce your kids to really good music!

Tulip Festival
Spring has been on the calendar for weeks and if the forecast holds out for the rest of the month we may finally be clear of winter’s long and icy fingers.   With over 13,000 tulips in bloom, alongside other flowers and blossoming trees, the Westside Community Garden is the perfect place to be in the thick of it. Located on West 89th between Amsterdam and Columbus, visiting the garden for a horticulture tour, flower arrangement class, or just strolling the grounds offers a lovely way to celebrate the season.

Smorgasburg
For food lovers, anytime is a good time to eat and Smorgasburg makes it so damn easy. With two Brooklyn locations, one in East River State Park in Williamsburg, and one in Prospect Park, this giant food festival showcases a market of up to 100 local and regional food vendors. This gastronomic outdoor extravaganza is a great entrée into the season and yet one more reason to hang out in Brooklyn.

Tribeca Films Festival
Now in its 15th year, the Tribeca Film Festival is a New York City experience. The project’s goal to revitalize lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11 is still going strong. This festival gives emerging directors the chance to showcase their goods alongside more established colleagues and it gives festival-goers a pick of classic films, new films, foreign films, documentaries, and more. For tourists, it’s a chance to experience the city on a local level.

So what are you waiting for–get outside!

Sounds For the World.

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It’s been five days since we learned of David Bowie’s death. I’d bet that no matter where you’re traveling these days, except maybe the desert, you’d hear his music streaming from a radio, iPod, or some other device. And even in the desert, someone just might surprise you with a ring tone delivering a few chords from a Bowie song.

Wanderer. Outsider. Misfit. Changeling. If at any time in your life you identified with any of those labels than his music struck a chord for you. That’s why so many people around the planet are still in a bit of shock grieving his loss these few days later. I don’t think that’s going to subside anytime soon. I keep thinking of the old jazz standard There Will Never Be Another You when it comes to this man. That tune has traveled through time as well.

Walking through my neighborhood in Brooklyn or on the streets of Manhattan, Bowie’s music blares from boutiques and bars, delis and donut shops. Quotes from his songs are displayed on café blackboards. We just can’t let the man go.

Stepping down onto the subway platform this morning on my way to work I heard a musician strumming the opening chords to a song. Even with the rumbling of the train that had just pulled out of the station I could name that tune. It was Space Oddity and while I was already late for work I was willing to let a few trains go by just to enjoy the entire performance and get close to Major Tom.

It was a gravelly and low and lovely rendition. I threw a buck into the guy’s cardboard box and soaked it all in. I wasn’t the only one. A few commuters had gravitated near the music and for a few brief moments it kind of felt like a state of grace had fallen on the gritty subway platform. Like we were anywhere but within the bowels of the New York City subway system.

Magically, and weirdly, I did not have to let a few trains go by because not one appeared until the guitarist played the closing chords. All of us listeners got to soak up the full benefit.

That was lovely, I told him and asked his name. Jessel, he said. Then he wished me a beautiful day while others shouted “really beautiful” and “thank you” to him. Dollar bills fluttered into his box before we packed into the tin can that jolted us out of that reverie, jettisoning us into the city towards the reality of the daily grind.

That’s the great thing about music. Like travel, it’s takes us places, lodges itself in our memory bank, gives us refuge. That’s the thing about Bowie. No matter where you are, he can still take you out of this world. No ticket required.

Get Crackin’

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With unseasonably mild temperatures hanging around the Big Apple these days, Jack Frost isn’t nipping at anyone’s nose. If the balmy weather has put a damper on your holiday cheer, a visit to a magical production of The Nutracker might put you in the spirit. With the mixed bag of productions performing across the New York City area there’s one for every age, making it easy to go nuts. Here’s a small taste of what’s out there:

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
For some, this performance at the New York City Ballet is the one true nut. The grandiose scenery and gorgeous costumes are breathtaking and the dancers are superb. It’s sugar plum fairy city. Through January 3, 2016.

Tickets: From $75 to $265
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center
Midtown Manhattan

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker
The name says it all! Kurtis Blow is the special guest MC who mixes it up for this holiday classic. A DJ, an electric violinist, and digital scenery infuse Tchaikovsky’s score with an urban note and contemporary spirit. Now through December 19.

Tickets: $39-$59
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
1 Center Street
Newark, NJ
1-888-GO-NJPAC

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Gelsey Kirland Academy of Classical Ballet
A different take on the classic, this production offers a bit more drama than Balanchine’s version. Former New York City Ballet principal dancer Kirkland trained under Master Balanchine so you’re definitely in for a treat. Now through December 20.

Tickets: From $20-$59
GK Arts Center
29 Jay St
Dumbo/Brooklyn
(212) 600-0047

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The Hard Nut
Based on a book by E. T. Hoffman, The Nutcraker and the Mouse King, this comic book tale set in the 1970s comes to life through the Mark Morris Dance Group’s clever modern dance and choreography, colorful costumes and winter wonderland in a wild and witty way you’ve not seen before. Now through December 20.

Tickets: Starting from $25
Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn
(718) 636-4100

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The Knickerbocker Suite
This stripped down version on the time-honored classic delivers a modern twist. Performed by the Manhattan Youth Ballet at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, the first act features an animated film, the second act weaves iconic New York City landmarks into favorite Nutcracker moments. At only 70-minutes it’s a refreshing take on the traditional production and the city’s pigeons never looked so good!

Tickets:  $20-$35
Manhattan Movement and Arts Center
248 West 60th Street, NYC

Cider Shines.

cider-550x500Nothing beats a glass of cider over ice on a hot summer day.   Its sparkling spirit is the ultimate balm when your internal thermometer has heated past its breaking point. Those scorching days may be behind us but that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy a glass of the hard stuff.   For anyone who’s never sipped this tasty beverage because they think it’s sweet, 2015 Cider Week NYC will crush that conception.

Kicking off today, an idea whose seed was planted in 2011 has grown to dozens of events across the city this year. If you’re a cider virgin, a good place to start is Applelooza on Lafayette Street where lots of tempting tastes await you. Featuring more than 40 different hard cider and apple spirits, you’re bound to fall for one or two.

Since its hard times during Prohibition when cider apple trees were destroyed, the beverage is having its moment and New York’s Hudson Valley and Catskill regions are a big reason behind it. Farm-made and craft ciders feature large during Cider Week, making for a great way for urbanites to connect with an agricultural movement typically associated with large farm production across the country.

Like beer and wine, cider offers a versatility in flavor which is probably why its gaining popularity as the fastest growing alcoholic beverage. The events taking place around the city bring the orchards to the city’s streets.

Cider Week NYC runs from November 6-15. A great reason to take out the Big Apple’s apples!

Celebrate National Park Week.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore.

In case you haven’t heard, April 18-26 is National Park Week. Each spring the National Park Service and National Park Foundation invite travelers near and far to celebrate the beauty and diversity of America’s parks.

With events happening across 400 of these beauties, finding one should be easy. If you’ve been looking for a unique getaway, consider one of these wide-open spaces.   There might be one not too far from your own backyard. If you’ve never taken the time out to explore your nearest national park, this might be the perfect week to do it.

For instance, Jamaica Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge is offering a free walk and talk on how to tell stories through photos. For New York City dwellers, it’s the perfect inspiration to go into the great wide open.   Point Reyes National Seashore in California is offering Journey of the Whales, where visitors learn about the migration routes of these animals. At Stones River National Battlefield in Georgia, a bicycle tour will take riders through the Civil War battlefield where they’ll hear stories and learn about this historic site. And at Hovenweep National Monument in Colorado, a new astronomy programs takes visitors on a celestial telescope tour as they check out the gold tier night sky. These events are a just tiny sampling of what’s being offered this week, there are loads more events happening in parks across the country not just now but throughout the year.

The great news is that if you can’t get out this week, you’ve got the rest of the year to plan a visit to one of America’s national parks. Stepping into spring, National Park Week is a great incentive to appreciate what we’ve got in our country’s backyard.

From California to the New York Island, go find your park!

America’s Lost Treasures: The Plains Indians

Buffalo picture of tipi of Never Got Shot. Photo credit: Claudia Santino

Buffalo picture on teepee. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art transports you to another place and time. For anyone who’s been itching to pay New York City a visit, it’s a perfect reason. But it’s got a short run and will close on May 10, 2015, so start planning.

You don’t need to be an art critic to understand the value of this exhibit. It’s easy to fall under the spell and spirit of what the Plains Indians were all about. Some of the artistic forms on display go as far back as 2,000 years when migrating peoples contributed items into Plains Indian culture.   The bounty at the Met represents pieces from many Native American nations.

Man's vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Man’s vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The Great Plains of North America was once a vast open landscape of earth and sky, running from the base of Texas and heading north across the mid-west and into Canada. That idea alone made it easy to immerse myself in understanding how the moving canvas of their environment influenced Native American Indians.

We lost the treasures of our country’s earliest artists  a long time ago. The 130 items in this exhibit are on loan from museums in Europe and North America. This treasure chest of Native American art was tossed across the ocean ages ago when soldiers and other opportunistic eyes recognized their value and traded then off.

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Animal power and a reverence for nature was central to Native American culture and that relationship is on full display here in almost every piece. The pipe is also a significant item in the exhibit. It served as a sacred instrument used in prayer and other rituals. A symbol of friendship and trust, the peace pipe helped seal the pact.

For the Plains Indians these items served more than one purpose.  They were more than form and function. They were part and parcel to their way of life. A war club made of walnut wood is smooth and glossy and engraved with a constellation of four-pointed stars.

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s and onward had a significant impact on the Plains Indians, for good and bad. The goods they acquired from these new settlers entered into their artistic expression, with glass beads from Venice, cowrie shells from the Pacific Ocean, and brass buttons from England adorning their clothing and other materials. Battle gear, blankets, dresses, moccasins, shirts and headdresses, mix the natural and the New World and the items on display are a wonder. One very cool looking man’s coat of native tanned leather, porcupine quills, brilliant embroidery and metal hooks and eye fasteners was handcrafted by a Sioux-Metis woman, yet looks like something you’d see on London’s Carnaby Street.

Handcrafted man's coat. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Handcrafted man’s coat. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Traveling north from Mexico, the Spaniards introduced the horse. Native American Indians quickly harnessed its power, joining the spirit of this animal into their way of life and swiftly adapting to a more nomadic existence. If they were one with nature before, now they could ride alongside her changing seasons. They could hunt better and find the food and shelter necessary to sustain their way of life. Now on the move, they couldn’t afford to be materialistic. The creativity and craftsmanship around their evolving lifestyle is brilliant and inspiring.

The horse transferred the beast into an animal with sacred powers.

The mask transferred sacred powers. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A saddle blanket made of leather, glass beads and wool cloth was used for resting beneath a woman’s saddle and used on social occasions to convey wealth and power. A horse mask transferred this animal into one with sacred powers in warfare or during ritual. A crupper, a strap that secures a horse’s saddle, is beautifully crafted from rawhide, native tanned leather, wool cloth, silk, glass beads, porcupine quills and metal cones. A riding dress with a Morning Star motif signals the four cardinal directions.

Photo by Claudia Santino

A crupper. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

There are many standout items on display. One of them is a cradleboard. Passed down as family heirlooms, these baby carriers worn on the back were crafted by a woman’s family and featured elaborate designs. Thunderbirds accented this one, mythical creatures recognized as powerful guardian spirits. Tiny metal cones hang around the top of a framed strap, creating a tinkling sound to soothe a baby. The thoughtfulness of which stayed with me.

A cradleboard. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A cradleboard.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Something called the parfleche envelope blew me away. It was the Ziploc bag of its time, only a lot better and, clearly, a work of art. Made from buffalo rawhide by Great Plains women, this painted envelope functioned as a beautiful weather resistant container. Central to life on horseback, it was expandable, lightweight and unbreakable. I may only ride the iron horse to work every day but I like the idea of having one.

Headdresses made from raven feathers and other bird feathers and beads are majestic. Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to Native American Indians, features strongly in their clothing and other adornments. Painted hides depict ceremonial battles, mythic birds and other forms of life and spirit, using every bit of canvas. They wasted nothing.

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

The Plains Indians spun materials from the natural world to evoke spiritual powers of animals and celebrate creation. A shield with a painted buffalo bull was passed down through five generations. A Cheyenne shield was used in war for almost 100 years. The animal depicted on their battle armor was the owner’s guardian spirit. The belief was that it was the image that would protect the warrior, not the shield.

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Sadly, in the end nothing could protect these Native Americans. Frontier settlers and the US government stripped them of their land and devastated the natural resources, mainly buffalo, that the Indians relied upon to sustain their way of life. The artwork here, from pre contact peoples to contemporary artists, are all of the elements used in their life which serves as a canvas to tell their story. In essence, they are America’s earliest experiential travelers and storytellers.

There’s a lot to marvel over in this collection. These in between days of spring when the weather toys with us are a good excuse to call in a mental health day or take vacation and play tourist for a day or two at one the city’s greatest cultural playgrounds. A chance to see what the Plains Indians contributed to American culture.

Come see this beautiful sight before it leaves town.