Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Life is a Runway – Washington Square News

Jackets are the perfect finish for a layered outfit. They can be cropped, blazer-styled or leather-detailed: pick one of your liking and wear it over a chunky sweater, soft dress, vest or tee. Here are some NYU students who know how to mix it up:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Children march in their own Halloween Parade

Associate Professor Renee Blake with husband Ken Saunders
and daughter Lourdes Saunders
Check out my article in Washington Square News on the fabulous 20th Annual Greenwich Village Children's Halloween Parade!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall Fun in Washington Square Park

My husband and I are at odds this weekend – I want a low-key weekend to relax amidst this Autumn weather and he wants to go adventuring, to do "something fun and different."

But as always, I have had to look no further than New York's very own Washington Square Park where numerous events for all energy levels and interests abound this weekend.

First, up through 5:30 this evening, the September Concert Foundation is providing a free outdoor concert at the Holley Plaza area.  

More shows are lined up tonight from Colin Huggins, "the crazy piano guy," who is scheduled to do a show with acrobatic comedians Tic and Tac and/or other performers from 5:00 to 8:00 PM followed by his own musical performance from 8:30 to 11:30 PM.

If you don't make it for formal shows tonight, you can be sure to find the usual plethora of musicians and variety acts throughout the park this weekend.  

If you're decorating a new apartment, doing some early Christmas shopping, or just generally a fan of good art and unique crafts, the Washington Square Park Outdoor Art Exhibit is Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00 PM on either side of the street on University Place from 12th Street South down to Washington Place.  The event takes place for two weekends in a row twice a year – around Memorial Day and Labor Day.   Last weekend it kicked off with huge success.  The exhibit is in its 80th year, is free to the public, and has many vendors individually selling their products.  From jewelry to ceramics to unique subway paintings, there is something for everyone.  Of all the street fairs that line the streets of New York, this one is a must to attend!

Finally, for all those who crave a furry friend, you can find a friend for an hour or one to adopt for a lifetime at the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's animals Adoptapalooza!  Let me just say that this is not your ordinary pet drive.  There are events and entertainment for adults, kids, current pets, and current pet-owners alike.  At 1:00 PM there is even a pet fashion show.  Pet makeovers, photographers, training demonstrations, and an Ask-the-Vet feature are only part of this event's excitement.  And yes, there will be numerous pets wanting you to take them home to your small NYC apartment.  I for one am trying to convince my husband (and my cat) that what we really need in our 450 sq. foot apartment is a dog. . . here's to hoping Adoptapalooza lives up to my expectations!

So have a great weekend New York and get outside to enjoy some great music, art, and animals in Washington Square Park! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The New York Times pays a late night visit to WSP

The Nocturnalist, a blogger for The New York Times' City Room, visited Washington Square Park last night.

Check out the article for a melodiously written recap on some late night medleys.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are New Yorkers more moral than birds?

Posted signs notify New York humans of when an area is "newly seeded" but the New York birds neither require the notification nor abide by the request to "please keep off."

Rather, the New York birds and their occasional chipmunk companions seem well aware that this particular area of Washington Square Park abounds in grass seeds.  The birds must think these seeds are begging to be devoured before launching grassy lives.  And no laminated sign will stop these birds from gorging themselves on infant grass seeds.

Not only is there no stopping these birds, but a few New Yorkers even rewarded them with extra food.  

Our media critiques celebrities for living as though they are above the law but the debate over legal enforcement for birds rarely receives airtime.  Yet these birds clearly received ample reward for breaking the law of the Washington Square Park sign.

New grass seeds.  Chunks of pound cake.  Bits of chocolate chip cookies.  These birds had it made.  

Well . . . all except one bird.

One baby bird fell out his nest too soon.  Not yet able to fly, he wandered amongst the feasting birds, squawking for his mother.  Reminiscent of a children's book perhaps, but this tale likely did not end happily.

The baby bird, unintentionally breaking the law of the Washington Square Park sign, had a human advocate seeking to save not indict it.  An anonymous bird-loving New Yorker watched from the sidewalk nearby, scouting the sky for hawks.  

The bird-lover admitted to also rewarding the rule-breaking birds with extra food, hoping to lure the mother into this particular (forbidden) area.  He made no attempt to approach the baby bird, knowing that he must stay back to allow any mother's return. He intended to buy the baby time by guarding against predators.

The outcome?  Likely not positive.  The anonymous bird-lover had watched for quite some time with no success.  When I left for a meeting, the bird-lover continued to watch with decreasing hope, searching for a park employee to aid.  No mother had surfaced. No other birds took interest in anything but the grass seeds and pound cake.  The baby continued to wander.  I can only hope the mother had a rebellious streak and explored the area she was asked to "Please Keep Off."

So again we find the conclusion that rules are easier to write than to interpret or apply.  Many of these birds clearly ignored the sign, finding the "Newly Seeded Area" to be their own personal feasting ground.  Yet at least one bird attended the party by accident, likely resulting in its own demise.  The other birds, gorging themselves on illegal seeds, allowed one of their kind to suffer.  But at least one New Yorker tried to help, even if it seemed like he rewarded the other birds' bad behavior.

I wish I had a conclusion for you, but sadly it's not so cut and dry.  I'll never know what became of the baby bird, the anonymous bird-lover, or the outlaw birds.  I can only offer this brief reflection on the morality of birds and New Yorkers.  

So what do you say?  Will New York birds ever abide by our important laminated signs?  Are New Yorkers more moral than birds?  Was the anonymous bird-lover a Good Samaritan, a hopeless idealist, or simply crazy?  Are New York birds annoying, rebellious, or simply ignorant?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Apologies for the Delays

I apologize for the recent delays in blog posts.  Due to a family medical emergency and resulting death in the family, I have been out of town and otherwise occupied.  Blog posts will resume within the week.  Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

listen up NY, there's a listener in WSP

Good news for introverts and extroverts alike – there's someone to listen in New York City parks.  Her sign says "Will Listen (No Catch, No Cost)" and she's ready to hear whatever is on your mind.

The Listener introduces herself when chatting with you but tries to remain publicly anonymous.  She began her listening project as a personal experiment in March 2010 and plans to continue through October or when the weather turns bitter.

She lives in Manhattan, has a day job as a secretary, and conducts her listenings on weekend afternoons, rotating parks throughout the boroughs.

"I thought, what would the world say if you said you would listen?" she explained.

And the world tells her a variety of things.  Per session, usually two or three people take a seat to chat. She hears small annoyances, difficult trials, and exciting news, everything from family griefs to job promotions.

Though she awaits completion of the project before making overall conclusions, she reported learning from the human connection.  She enjoys seeing herself through the connection with others, and how "in the end, we're all people" with similarities and eccentricities.  She explores the human need to relate with others, even just to say you like the weather.

Though no park ranks as a favorite, "in Washington Square Park, there is always entertainment," she admitted, smiling at a nearby solo dancing and magic act.

On Saturday, she visited WSP.  Her park rotations are not predetermined but she has thus far visited most parks more than once.

So if you find yourself in a New York City park and have the need to talk, look around for the Listener.  She's there to hear your deepest darkest secrets or your simplest exclamations.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

so long Hamptons, I'll summer in WSP

Though many New Yorkers left the city by droves for their long Fourth of July weekend, plenty still settled their beach towels on the newly reopened Northwest lawn of WSP.

Known as the Large Lawn, the expanse offers more than enough seating options for park-goers who want a closer connection with this particular grassy New York spot.

The Northwest quadrant of WSP closed for renovations from December 2007 to May 2009.  This renovation provided the quadrant with expanded lawns, new sidewalk pavers, and new benches.  However, the expanded lawn was "temporarily closed" again throughout this spring and early summer.  Combine this with the current renovations of the Eastern lawns and sunbathers were left with limited options amongst the small south central plots.

But the Large Lawn opened just in time for the long holiday weekend.  And trust me, everyone noticed.

Whether wanting to sunbathe, lounge in the shade, nap, or chat with friends, more than a few New Yorkers found the perfect locale on the Large Lawn.  Bathing suited or fully clothed, alone or with friends, you can find a spot on the lawn and slip into anonymity a safe distance from walkways and potential gawkers.  And if you're like me and want to sunbathe while your companions want the shade, the lawn is just for you - with both sunny and shady sections, you won't have too large a compromise.  

The Large Lawn is perfect for those lazy summer afternoons.  But just remember that the key word here is "lazy."  The posted signs warn park-goers that this is a "Passive Lawn," meaning that active sports, dogs, littering, and the use of illegal drugs or alcohol are specifically prohibited.  Sorry guys, your game  will have to go somewhere else - I'm sunbathing without a helmet and I'm not watching out for stray footballs. 

A big "thank you" must go out to WSP for opening its lawn to those of us who stuck around last weekend.  Sure, I may not have brushed elbows with any Real Housewives in the Hamptons, but I assure you that my tan got just as golden.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

fountain fanatics - new yorkers cool off in Washington Square Park

On a hot summer day, it's hard to resist the fountain.  As the centerpiece of WSP, the fountain calls both young and old to its waters without concern for attire.

It all started in 1852 when the first WSP fountain was completed.  After its first replacement in 1872, it was renovated to include a wading pool in 1934.  And it once again grabbed the attention of renovators for the ongoing construction and renovation project that began in 2007.  Phase 1 of this controversial project included rebuilding the fountain (with wading pool area) so that it aligns with the arch.  Despite community complaints and lawsuits, the fountain was in fact closed, reconstructed, and reopened in May of 2009. 

Now, a year later, crowds fill the fountain and its surrounding area.  And though there may be ongoing complaints over its renovation, you don't hear them when you're cooling your feet by its edge.

Though I often enjoy sitting on its edge while avoiding the splashes of countless kids, I never ventured into the fountain waters until late last week.  And, as usual, I picked the worst time to do so.

My friend Jess and I were innocently enjoying our Cake & Shake milkshakes near the fountain when it started to rain.  Neither of us had an umbrella and I suggested that ignoring the rain could possibly make it disappear.  It did not.  

I'm not sure which one of us suggested it first, but all of the sudden there was no turning back.  We were headed for the fountain.

Don't worry, we were smart about it – we made a new friend who agreed to watch our stuff and take pictures for your sake.

There was no resisting it, as Jess said, "the fountain was beckoning."

So in we went, fully clothed.

Clearly, wading around its edges is for wimps.  We went straight through the fountain itself.

And I took a bit of a fall.

But even so, we conquered that fountain.

Or perhaps it conquered us.  In Jess' words, "it was kinda slimy and smelled funny."  And we were then fully clothed, drenched, and cold in the middle of the afternoon, both far from our respective apartments.

When my husband, Chris, called to make dinner plans, I can't say he was surprised to hear that his wife was drip-drying in the rain on a WSP bench.

Although Jess admitted "I'll still give it another chance," I was unconvinced.  By the time I got home, my skin felt dry and slimy at the same time.  My cloths smelled musty.  How could anyone enjoy that?

But, as I've suggested before, perhaps WSP is completely different (or creepy) in the rain.  So perhaps the slimy, smelly sensation was due to the rain?  Or the fact that we were stuck in wet cloths?  Or the fact that it was cold (for June)?

Because Chris and I did in fact give the fountain another chance yesterday, receiving remarkably better results.

Perhaps it was the fact that we wore bathing suits, or that the temperature soared to the upper 90's, but the WSP fountain was simply fun and refreshing.

And the heat prompted tons of park-goers to venture into the fountain whether they wore bathing suits or cloths and whether or not they had kids as an excuse.

And trust me, Chris was only one of many who jumped into the actual fountain.  His many co-conquerers likewise ranged in ages and attire.

Swimming laps was not exactly possible, but it was as refreshing as any pool I've been in.  

I can't say what filtration or chemicals clean the fountain; however, it looks clean and from time to time the area seems smell strong of chlorine.

I'm not gonna lie, I still showered when I got home, but the fountain provided great fun and great community for all who needed to cool off yesterday afternoon.  It's high on my list of suggestions for things to do on a hot New York afternoon.

While I personally will not again jump through the fountain jets when I'm fully clothed and have dinner plans (or when its raining), I will wade in to partially cool off.  And, if I just so happen to have a bathing suit handy, I won't hesitate to join those who make it their own personal pool club.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

even Larry David is enthused in Washington Square Park

You never know what you'll find strolling through Washington Square Park – a man dressed as a wolf with a guitar, the infamous "bird man," a calm crowd of readers and sunbathers . . . or perhaps, Larry David.

That's right, live and in person, the one and only Larry David was filming Season 8 of his show Curb Your Enthusiasm in WSP Friday.

 If you were lucky enough to be passing through, you could pull up a seat to watch . . .  as long as you weren't in between the camera and the planted extras.

Such as the two women (in blue and yellow) or the skateboarders learning the precise path and timing of their "just-happened-to-be-there" addition to the background.


But alas, if you were looking for stardom or to become Larry's best friend, you weren't gonna find it Friday.

This guy, complete with wife-beater and cast, asked to play a lead role:

The crew answered his pleas with "yea, we'd like to be in the show too."

But although I didn't ask for my one way ticket to Hollywood, I did get pictures.

Larry David runs:

Larry David and Cheyenne Jackson (who plays Danny on 30 Rock) film their big scene.  The girl seated in the background with the art board is planted – she didn't even have paper to sketch on.

Even Larry has to stretch . . .

but I have to say, Cheyenne Jackson looks like he works out a bit more frequently.

And look who showed up. . .

 Jeff Garlin, who amused the crowd by entering their photography wars –  snapping more pictures of them than they could capture of him.

The crew, including Larry Charles:

Larry Charles, writer for Seinfield and a director for Curb Your Enthusiasm:

This guy's got a hat:

And then all of the sudden, they were gone.  Packed up and relocated within about 20 minutes.

To WSP's chess player corner:

Where Larry Charles and the others seemed content leaning on the railing like us commoners do until their chairs arrived:

And the great thing about WSP is that Larry David can film his show in one corner while just a few yards away everyone is unawares.  I found some of my friends on the West Central walkway, enjoying their afternoon on the bench with no Larry David knowledge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cake & Shake makes indulgence go green

Opening only one month ago, Cake & Shake is already a WSP staple, bringing to the community what co-owner Gina Ojile calls a "happy, light concept in dark economic times."

Owners Gina Ojile and Derek Hunt worked for 10 years in food consultation and product development, often focusing on frozen desserts, before starting their own concept 2 years ago.

Gina says their business design is "a bit whimsical and within our sphere of influence and experience."

They chose a mobile cart as their medium, noting the costs of storefronts, their preference for Parks Department permits, and their history of transporting food for clients.

The food concept began with their disappointment in the milk and milkshakes around NYC. Hailing from the dairy heartland of Minnesota, Gina and Derek combined their experience with frozen desserts and their love of quality milkshakes, deciding to bring "an old fashioned milk-based shake to NYC."

But they wanted something more than the standard NYC ice cream cart. "We don't even like ice cream!" Gina exclaims. They needed something different. And that something different came in the form of another NYC dessert staple: the cupcake.

But these cupcakes are unique, with organic, made from scratch ingredients and 20 exclusive flavors. "We don't have red velvet" Gina says. Rather than competing with Magnolia's, Cake & Shake "just gives a whole different experience."

And each detail of that experience is meticulously designed. Gina and Derek thought of everything – the environment, the ingredients, the future, and the WSP community.

Cake & Shake's Mission Statement:

"Cake & Shake is an innovative mobile food cart that combines the current interest in well-crafted, organic cupcakes and shakes with a strong commitment to green-friendly cooking practices. Serving 20 flavors of cupcakes and eight flavors of shakes, Cake & Shake uses only certified organic milk, butter, eggs, sugar and flour in all cupcakes, and real fruit in all shakes and fillings. Our green philosophy touches every aspect of our business, from biodegradable cleaning and paper products to the carts themselves, which run on bio-diesel fuel and are equipped with six solar panels for electrical power. Ultimately, we hope to bring the Cake & Shake experience to neighborhoods across New York and in the surrounding area."

Cake & Shake commits to quality ingredients with the Big Five Organic (milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and flour) and with real fruits. They believe the more that's made from scratch, the better the food. So rather than use a milkshake mix, they make their own mix. Rather than finding fruit flavoring or cupcake fillings, they make their own shake flavors and their own nougat. Derek even dry roasts his own salted caramel for grating onto cupcakes and mixing into shakes.

Although they use organic and natural ingredients, Cake & Shake won't find promotion from diet or health food sites. "There won't be an all bran cupcake" Gina laughs. They decided against gluten free and vegetarian options: "We can't make a good cake with those restrictions. That's just not our market."

"We are pure indulgence," she explains, adding that "you may want to work out afterward."

But any workout is worth these indulgences. The incredible flavors rotate daily, with 5 cupcakes and 3 shakes offered at a time from an extensive menu. And Gina admits that though their milkshake machine is calibrated the same everyday, she and Derek can't resist their own product, justifying frequent indulgences by saying, "we still gotta test it, right?"

In fact, Gina loves the foods so much that she can hardly name a favorite. She calls the Haitian Mango shake "mind blowing" but quickly applauds Arabic Espresso, a milkshake that rivals any Starbucks Frappacino. Although Whatchamacallit was her standard cupcake choice, she's found a new favorite in Heaven Split after revisiting the flavor when a customer took seconds.

As for me, the Whatchamacallit stole my cupcake loyalty from Crumbs and the Arabic Espresso is well on its way to keeping me out of the Starbucks line (once Cake & Shake's promised espresso shot is added). I found that Gina was right that Cake & Shake cupcakes are consistently moist. And the Valhrona Chocolate beats any shake I had growing up near a dairy department in Virginia.

As meticulous as they are with food, Gina and Derek are just as intentional about their production methods. The commitment to environmentally conscious choices "is not a trend for us," Gina asserts.

"I've always been extremely concerned about garbage, even from a small age," Gina states. But the expenses and availability of products make the green commitment difficult. In order to get biodiesel for the cart, they travel to the Bronx. Most of the products such as their untreated paper cupcake liners are more expensive. So this commitment "had to be really integral to the business plan from the beginning," Gina explains, "we made it part of what Cake & Shake is about."

NYU student, Jess Pfeffer,
overjoyed with her choice of
the "Salted Caramel" shake
Cake & Shake incorporates five compostable items that completely break down, in addition to two products which need to go to a commercial compost facility. With these two products – the shake cups and lids – Gina proves her dedication as she continues her year-long research, searching for a way to avoid waste management corruption and get these products into a commercial compost facility.

They consider their environmental commitment as simply "the right thing to do."

"We're asking people to know when they buy from us that everything has been thought out, even the plastic fork," Gina says.

Gina and Derek remain integral aspects of their operation. They have two bakers who bake from 2:00 AM to 8:00 AM every morning; but Derek, the conceiver of each recipe, arrives to run quality control by 4:00 AM. Derek then moves the cart from their storage facility in Long Island City to WSP by 9:00 AM each morning. Along with numerous tasks of her own, Gina runs their impressive social networking, stating that she wants the networking to be intentional and informed, created by someone who really knows the product.

Cake & Shake is also committed to the WSP community. With a five year permit, Gina and Derek chose WSP carefully. They wanted to launch their brand somewhere with a flexible, "try anything" vibe, a fun energy, and a supportive and flexible community. WSP fit the bill.

Gina wants to bring happiness to New Yorkers during hard economic times and to invite hardworking NYU students to "come take a break a at Cake & Shake." Although most NYU students are gone for the summer, business is already flourishing.

Gina and Derek are pleasantly surprised by the WSP community, noting that it is closer knit than they imagined. "These people are in that park everyday. They know each plant," Gina explains, noting that she while expects such attention from her fellow coop members who own a green space in Queens, she is surprised to find it in a publicly owned park. Gina feels welcomed by WSP regulars, who often approach the cart to meet the Cake & Shake employees and find out how they intend to contribute to WSP.

In turn, Gina says, "they can depend on us, that we're gonna be here."

Gina and Derek don't intend to compete with the long time resident hot dog stands. Cake & Shake is a part of WSP's initiative to attract speciality food vendors who offer more variety and choice for this global city.

The park strategically plans vendor permits and locations in order give vendors a fair chance and provide a setting conducive to the community. Cake & Shake's permit specifies a location on the Northeastern corner of WSP, a spot now impeded by construction. Within a week of opening there, they were temporarily repermitted for the South Central entrance.

Cupcakes and shakes are made fresh each day and replenished halfway through the day. The WSP cart is in place and serving their delicacies from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Come on out to try these scrumptious desserts & meet the friendly masterminds behind it. Derek works the cart each morning from 9:00 to 11:00 AM and Gina works Saturdays.

When the cold weather of December hits, Cake & Shake will remain open. Gina expects that their clientele will then favor the cupcakes and coffees, although I wouldn't put it past this creative pair to invent a steaming hot milkshake – Gina already admits to mixing vanilla shake into hot coffee per a customer's request.

Although happy in WSP, Gina and Derek plan to take the business much further. In July, a second cart opens in front of the MET. This cart will feature the same menu as WSP except for an addition of "Savory Cakes," five meal replacement cakes baked in cupcake liners with filling ingredients (such as the "Sunrise Cake" which features grilled chicken, cheese, and cornmeal). At least for now, the Savory Cake is not available in WSP – a larger cart with oven and a different permit are required.

Plans include wholesale and online orders in the near future but Gina and Derek have an even larger vision of opening Cake & Shake locations nationwide. So keep on the lookout America and when you see a whimsical cart come to your town, remember it all started in my favorite little park – a park with the right kind of energy for launching such a happy indulgence.

Been to Cake & Shake? What's your favorite cake or shake?

Haven't been? Head over there and report back!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

bad music and great writing in this corner of the 'hood

I should have expected it.  Once I recommended WSP's musical medleys, I was bound to encounter the worst specimen of harmony and propaganda imaginable.  Appreciative of afternoons with virtuoso pianists, I headed into WSP last Thursday only to be reminded of one unalterable park fact – its public.

Which means they don't give background checks to all park-goers.  There's no test you have to pass.  Your obnoxious laugh intermixed with wheezing may be detrimental to society but no one will lock you out.  That's right.  Annoying people are allowed into WSP.

Case in point:

The picture doesn't show the whole band because none of them could play on cue and their attention spans and commitment to the act was low enough that random members would wander off mid-chord.  

Intermixed in their musical style was hippie, hillbilly, screaming rage, denim, tattoos, facial hair, cool hats, and possibly groupies (although they could have just been uncommitted band members).

I must admit that I know nothing about them.  I made no attempt to ask questions.  I just walked away.

Choosing a bench on the opposite side of the fountain, I tried to ignore their horrendous cacophony and their anti-government, anti-church, anti-music, anti-everything lyrics which often featured various terms and descriptions of actual human excrement.  

But the distance didn't work.  Perhaps realizing the lack of funds coming their way, they chose the full on screaming tactic.  

I don't care what establishment you oppose, I'm not listening to your reasons when you're screaming off-key.  

I retreated to the West pathway.  Here, with their performance adequately muffled, I joined other escapees for a quiet park afternoon.

Tom Beller and Hal Sirowitz
And I suppose I must thank those musicians for exiling me to the far West of the park where I later encountered a wonderful public reading.  "Mr. B's Reading Series" was put on by Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, a literary website that highlights and publishes pieces of creative nonfiction concerning life in New York City.

This reading honored the site's 10th anniversary.  Readers included Thomas Beller, Abigail Frankfurt, Said Sayrafiezadeh, Hal Sirowitz, and others.

The readings were both light and deep, funny and profound.  The audience broke out laughing on numerous occasions.  I'll never again see a man on the subway without thinking of Frankfurt's  assessments of their spread.  And Duane Reed takes on a whole new atmosphere in light of Sayrafiezadeh's war.

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood has published selections in two books, both available on Amazon: Lost and Found: Stories from New York, published in 2009, and Before and After: Stories from New York, published in 2002.  

Thanks to Mr. Beller's reading series, WSP offered a quality alternative to the would-be-musicians by the fountain that day.  And no, a public park doesn't keep out the annoying, but its open paths also host the enriching.

So just remember – music isn't always fun and literature isn't always boring.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

film on the green 6/25

The Cultural Services of the French Department and the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation have teamed up to present summer films on the green in NYC parks.

Tonight you can see "Same Old Songs" at Washington Square Park from 8:30-10:30.  Some seats will be set up but you may also bring your blanket and spread out.  Seating will begin around 8:15.

I also heard from a WSP park employee that attendees were not prohibited from having their own food and wine out at last week's WSP film on the green.

This is the second and last of the French films shown on the green at the WSP location.  It is completely free of charge.

See http://www.frenchculture.org/spip.php?article3496 for more info.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WSP fashion fix with The Topshop

If you're needing some time in the great outdoors tomorrow, why not go to Washington Square Park to get your nature fix and your fashion tips all at once?

The Topshop four day summer promotion is making a stop in Washington Square Park tomorrow, June 24th.  

Come check out their trend workshops and styling tips.  You can also set up a full in-store appointment that is absolutely free!

They are scheduled to be at WSP from 11 AM - 2 PM and from 4 PM to 7 PM.

For more information on the full event and lists of locations check out:


You can also check out The Topshop online:  http://www.topshop.com

happiness in a grand piano

A former ballet music director and his twelve year old student captured the attention of park-goers, playing a grand piano by the Washington Square Park fountain last Tuesday afternoon.

I've noticed the grand piano previously in WSP but this time a small boy in shirt and tie was at the keys, captivating an audience with classical music.  This was no beginner.  He played for well over 30 minutes without music and without pause.

As I shot my own video, I was approached by a man with a clipboard introducing himself as an MTV B-roll associate.  He and his small crew were taping other musicians in WSP. . . until they saw this small pianist.  "This kid's a child prodigy!  We had to catch this" he excitedly informed me, "I feel like I'm gonna see a lot more of this kid someday."

And the clipboard full of forms?  I was in the background of their footage and they needed a waiver from me.  It's true, I'm pretty much a superstar now.

So who is this child prodigy?  His name is Jason W. Cordero.  He's twelve years old, originally from Ecuador, and currently living in Queens.

Jason began playing the piano six years ago when his father bought him a toy keyboard and soon discovered Jason playing songs by ear.  They enrolled him in piano lessons.

Jason also enjoys playing the violin and guitar but he's happiest at the piano keys, explaining simply that the piano "is just better."

Jason kept a growing audience in WSP, even drawing the admiration of the young skateboard and scooter crowd:

And don't worry about the youngster being out on his own, Jason's father is always close by when he plays.  On Tuesday, Jason was accompanied by both his father and his younger sister.

But Jason and his father are usually found gracing major NYC subway stops with a keyboard.  What brings them to WSP with a grand piano?

Colin Huggins.  The self-proclaimed "crazy piano guy."

Colin, the former music director of the Joffrey ballet school, often plays a grand piano near the WSP fountain, drawing crowds in his own right.  Colin began playing in parks in the summer of 2008.  Broadening his art to the parks allowed him to have what he calls real performances, much different than the limits on art and the limited audiences he found in Joffrey performances.  He saw the pleasure his music brought to wider, public audiences and he was hooked.

After the summer of 2008, Colin steadily phased out of his work at Joffrey.  By the time he left Joffrey in January 2010, he only oversaw the payroll, working for the benefits.  Now he is a full time public performer.  His Joffrey days are long gone and he is "so much happier."

Colin loves playing for the public – "I like to perform and I like to meet people.  At the ballet studio it was just the same thing day after day."

You may have previously seen Colin playing an upright piano in various locations throughout the city: Union Square, the West 4th Street subway station, Times Square, or Herald Square.  He has only recently begun to use the grand piano, which he only brings to WSP.

Ask him how he gets a grand piano into WSP and he'll point to his biceps – "Isn't it obvious?"

The grand piano is stored by Manhattan Mini Storage, who sponsor Colin by allowing him to store the piano for free.  In return they get the effortless advertising of a sticker on Colin's piano.  The piano legs fold up and Colin rolls the piano upright from the storage facility near the Holland Tunnel to WSP, a distance of approximately 1 mile depending on the route.

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Despite the profound impact that the grand piano makes, Colin is undecided between it and an upright piano – its sound quality and level seem somewhat soft to him.  He would also like to start rotating locations  again, even with the grand piano.

So why has he chosen WSP as the currently exclusive location?  Because of WSP's long history of tolerance toward musicians.  The police may stop him other places, but in WSP he is a welcome addition to the culture of street performers, most of which Colin has met and likes.

I've even caught him teaming up with other WSP acts:

Yet Colin says street performers have taken a hit.  Due to government dislike of buskers and the decreased tourist industry since September 11th, buskers have diminished.  According to Colin, the ones who still perform are a more limited group of those who have "really held to their guns."  He is one of the few WSP buskers who make their living full time from street performances.  Most have day jobs.

Colin understands the government's distaste for buskers, stating that there are few reasons for the government to like them as they draw crowds which can stop pedestrian traffic and pull people away from full priced, ticketed performances.

Tourists provide the main source of donations to buskers, thus the drop in tourism has a large impact.  While Colin says other buskers claim to have once made $600.00 every time they played, he has only made that once – when he needed to pay his rent and played from 10 AM to 10 PM.

Despite this, Colin is committed to making it work because of his vision for art, which is similar to that of most great artists – that art should appeal and be available to everyone.  He likens this vision Ballacino's strategic directing of the NYC Ballet which eventually drew diverse attendees so that the audience, according to Colin, "looked like a street performance audience," catering to a wide demographic rather than to an elite few.  Colin is also writing music and social networking, hoping eventually to release and market his own pieces.  He would also like a few more sponsors – often the key to an artist making it.

So where does Jason come into the picture?  Colin kept seeing Jason play the keyboard in subway stations.  He says that Jason's music was "really good" but that he made a few "fundamental errors."  So Colin suggested that they meet for lessons in the park, the only place he has a piano accessible.

Jason is Colin's only student.

Not only does Jason get the lessons for free, he makes money from the sessions, emptying the tip buckets each time he relinquishes the keys to Colin.

Although Jason has only had lessons for the last several months, he learned most of the difficult pieces he played on Tuesday from Colin.

For their actual lesson, they keep the piano in a corner of the park and play softly.  "You can't teach anything with an audience" Colin states.

Then they role it out to the fountain and have a blast performing.

And if you think Colin is the one who profits most from Jason's performance, I'd have to disagree.  It seems Jason stole the show and took the tips Tuesday.  After his initial lengthy set, Jason switched off with Colin every few songs.  He didn't leave until after 8:00 PM, when his father pried him away.

Colin said he'd play until 10:00 PM.

And park-goers loved them.  Many took a seat, staying longer than they seemed to intend.  One onlooker waiting to meet a friend exclaimed "Have you ever seen anything like this!?"

There is certainly something special about a grand piano in WSP.

"This is such a nice park to spend time in," a local New Yorker told me, "and this. . . this is incredible."

But despite the applauding onlookers, Colin and Jason each have complaints about WSP audiences.

"I don't know what it is about the children here," Colin mused, commenting that they often behave worse toward him here than in other performance locations, hitting the side of the piano or stealing from his tip bucket.

And while I would think Jason would rather play a grand piano in a grand park than a keyboard underground, Jason prefers the subway station.  Why?  This small entrepreneur grinned, "I make more money there."

Jason's performances are hard to find.  He plays in subways almost every Sunday but he rotates stations without a set schedule.  His lessons with Colin in WSP are even harder to predict.  He'd only say he comes every couple of weeks.

Colin is a more regular WSP presence, usually spotted in the late afternoons and evenings.  He said comes four to five times a week and more frequently toward the end of the month (when rent is due soon).  If you want to catch a more guaranteed performance, head to WSP on a Friday or Saturday night, where Colin has concerts near or even in the fountain from 8:30 - 10:30.

Whether or not you're prone toward classical performances, Colin and Jason will surely bring a smile to your face.  And thanks to visions like Colin's, WSP continues to be a place where New Yorkers and tourists alike can experience the truth of Colin's philosophy – "art exists to make people happy."

To see more, you can also visit:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmCv6Jo6FWQ  (Note: the first minute of this video is an advertisement for the video producers.  After that, it features Jason and his father).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"take a music bath"

Tired of Pandora or your itunes selection?  Searching for a relaxing afternoon of quality musical entertainment to bring a sense of peace and balance?

Then head down to Washington Square Park, where tourists and locals alike have sat back to enjoy the music since the end of World War II.

Musicians and other buskers have long made WSP a primary stage. But this has not always been a peaceful relationship.  In the late 1940's, the government began requiring permits to play in WSP.  Then in 1961, when the park commissioner attempted to close WSP to entertainers, approximately 500 permit-less musicians and supporters filled the park and led a procession around the park.  They were met by the NYPD billy clubs and the event went down in history as the "Beatnik Riot."

Needless to say, those "Beatnik" music-lovers made quite the impression and won their right to stay – musicians of all varieties are still setting up throughout WSP today.  I guarantee this – if you don't like the first musician you hear, you'll be able to find at least four other performers at any given time, all within the same 9.75 acre tract . . . unless it's raining.

Take for instance this guy:

He didn't seem to pause the entire 10 minutes that I watched him.  If he took a breath, he hid it well.

Or there's these two gentlemen:  

No hat set out for money, just enjoying their acoustic duet and sharing it with the world.

Or there's these guys who often draw quite the following under the arch:

 They even have CD's for sale.

If you're in the mood for something more action-packed, these guys can catch your attention (and make you catch your breath) as their acrobatics include literally jumping over their audience:

According to their loud warnings, you better be sure you "DON'T MOVE!!!"

If the musical and variety acts don't appeal to you, there's always the birds:

But be forwarned, they'll probably search you for breadcrumbs rather than singing you a love song.

No matter your musical preference, WSP can offer the perfect accompaniment for your lunch break, your afternoon walk, or that needed "time to think."  As Oliver Wendell Holmes once advised, "Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons.  You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body."  In WSP you always have plenty of bath soaps to choose from.

I'm scoping out the stories behind the amazing musicians of WSP.  And as promised, my first feature will highlight a grand piano, a former ballet music director, and a child prodigy.  Don't worry, I won't make you wait long!  

In the meantime, I felt the need to introduce and make my shameless plug for WSP entertainers.  If you're in the NYC area you should absolutely stop by for a pleasant afternoon or evening by the fountain.  Tell me who your favorite performers are and check back to find out more about the people behind your accompaniment.  If you're not in NYC, check back for a taste of the music as I see it and for insider info on the best performers and times so that you're well prepared when you visit.