An Irishgirl abroad — New York life through a European lens

New York blues

Posted in Brooklyn, Local, New York by Frieda on June 10, 2010

The view from my house yesterday

If you’re in a bad mood in New York the best thing to do (if possible) is to stay indoors. Don’t go to the shops, don’t buy coffee, don’t get on public transport or walk on crowded pavements. Don’t even check email. Wear a helmet. There’s something strangely responsive about this city, as if it senses your troubles and chooses not to help, deciding instead to hurl irritations, hindrances and crazy people in your way. On a good day the sun shines and people will be astonishingly nice, but if you’re having a difficult time the environment easily becomes hostile. And, to be frank, bad things may happen.

Last Thursday was a case in point. In the morning I attended an MTA appeal. After going through a three-hour process, I was given the maximum fine. A few hours later, as I cycled tired and annoyed along a street near my home, my bike hit a pothole and I flew over the handlebars, landing on my left elbow.

Within two hours of my bike accident I had inadvertently managed to offend a friend’s friend. He was extremely angry with me and I was angry back. We have resolved the matter, but the offense was as unintentional as my bike accident, and it seemed odd: I truly didn’t mean to stir up trouble.

All that took its toll. This week I’ve felt as if the whole city has been fighting with me, and my misery only seemed to attract more of the same; or as a rather more expressive writer once put it, ‘when sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.’ Things have kept going wrong. On Monday I waited for the subway, huddling towards the upper end of the platform away from other people, but when the train arrived, the conductor yelled, ‘First three carriages are not in use!’ Cradling my coffee I stepped toward carriage four, only to see the subway doors close, as the train pulled off.  The conductor could have waited for me, he just didn’t. (It’s also true that I didn’t smile at him when he made his announcement, when normally I would have).

My computer started to play up and went into ‘Panic’ mode without my asking; Google refused to work, linking instead to a weird Wiki page full of meaningless text. But Tuesday was the nadir of my New York blues. I was walking down the street to a coffee shop near my house when a woman approached me. Something in her step put me off, and I wondered if she would be mad, or hostile. I didn’t have to wonder long. She walked towards me and thrust her face at mine and said in a tone that was almost sane, ‘I am everything. You are nothing! I am everything. You are nothing!’ I was scared. I ducked and ran away from her, across the quiet street. Yet she’d got something right: she had articulated, succinctly, aggressively and in a way that was fittingly unhinged, the world’s hostility.

After that, and after I spoke to a friend, things gradually improved. Today even Google has cooperated, miraculously righting itself without intervention from the ‘Genius’ men at Apple (perhaps the weirdness had to do with this). Still, it has rained all day — see the pic above.

*******

One day on, we are on good terms again — the city seems back to its magical self. On the subway this morning, a man smiled and gave me his seat. ‘Your bag looks heavy,’ he said, as he thought up a beautiful image: ‘What are you carrying? Golden bricks?’

The door leading up to my roof

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Crime & punishment

Posted in Brooklyn, Local, New York by Frieda on June 3, 2010

Don't mess with the MTA

It’s well known that the Metropolitan Transport Authority is utterly strapped for cash at the moment. This means they’re cutting services and firing employees. It also means it’s a bad, bad time to offend them in any way. About a a month ago I made a foolhardy attempt to save 18 minutes by skipping under a turnstyle (all excuses can be found here). I had my hearing today and received my just desserts — or unjust ones, depending on your perspective.

MTA officials are often very unpleasant, but the office at 29 Gallatin Place was surprisingly calm, much like an NHS hospital waiting room. My number flashed up and I moved from ticketing desk to another desk to an adjudicating official within three hours.

29 Gallatin -- actually quite an insalubrious area

Most people there were African American and Hispanic: laconic teens, ironical women who had seen it all, and aggravated, angry men. Most seemed a bit down at heel, but a few men in shirt suits sat looking around them in bewilderment. I felt acutely aware of race and gender. It was notable that none of the adjudicating officials were African American or Hispanic — I spotted a blond woman, a white man with bushy eyebrows, and another woman with dark hair and glasses. I hoped I’d get a man, thinking he might be more sympathetic.

Well, Mr. Andrew R., watery-eyed and middle-aged, was nice enough. He switched on an ancient vintage-style tape-recorder, read out my charge, and other details, read me my rights, and got me to swear to tell the truth holding up my right hand. It seemed rather melodramatic. I recounted my take on the situation and he listened with what appeared to be a friendly ear.

Back in the main office, I awaited the verdict. Because we were all in the same boat the atmosphere was friendly, and people began to chat about how much they hated the MTA. The man across from me had been booked for going through the emergency door, after he had swiped through with his card. He had paid with the card! he said. Another man, dignified and bespectacled, was quiet about his crime. It was hard to imagine what he could have done. ‘They just need money,’ he said. ‘They’re fining everyone for everything.’ I thought, uneasily, how if I was in charge of the MTA, it would make sense to ask all adjudicators to fine everyone uniformly at the maximum amount.

The dignified old man was called up to the window, and we all jumped when he waved his arms and shouted, ‘This is ridiculous!’ He stomped out the door without looking over at us.

Next was a young, anxious-looking Asian-American man who’d been sitting beside me and who seemed worried about getting back to work. Next was me. My heart beat when I looked at my form, where Andrew R. had written that my tale of having bought the monthly travel card did not diminish the fact that I’d broken the law. The fine was the maximum: $100.

So that’s the way things are at the moment in New York. There’s no leeway, no discretion, there are no excuses or explanations: if you get booked for something here — regardless of X or Y or P or Q, the morals of the situation, or whatever plaintive reasons or motives you may have had — you’ve broken the law and you will be punished.

The funny thing is people do break rules here all the time in flagrant, flamboyant ways. It’s only a problem, as it always is, if you get caught.

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Alain de Botton’s poor parties

Posted in Books by Frieda on May 28, 2010

Vino

Today in the Guardian the popular philosopher, Alain de Botton, was the subject of an aggressive attack. He was interviewed in the Times about his ideal dinner party, and revealed that he buys ready-meals to feed his guests. He also likes his guests to be vulnerable, and here things get complicated, or maybe just plain patronising. Without his oversight, he thinks that conversation would be boring, so he asks people questions: “What’s everyone afraid of at the moment?” or “Why have you come out tonight?” or “What’s the point in your life?”

Why not get straight to the point?

The Guardian’s food blogger rightly took him to task for serving up pre-prepared Marks & Spencers fodder, and for dividing up a measly two bottles of wine between eight people.

Infinitely more surprising to me, since I’m a former a classicist and de Botton is after all a philosopher, is his failure to note the dinner party’s philosophical pedigree. How could he forget! Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, Athenaeus and Aulus Gellius all staged symposia, using the dinner-party to showcase intellectual bickering, Socratic brilliance, discussion, and argument.

De Botton thinks everyone should contribute to conversation (an idea of Plato’s and of Plutarch). So far so good. But vulnerability shouldn’t be dragged from guests by questions, it should organically peep into life. Plutarch, my most beloved ancient sage, advised giving extra wine to shy people, and mixing water into the drinks of  rowdier guests. In Plutarch’s Table Talks (at nine books, it’s well worth a read) the questions for discussion arise from the spirited conversation itself.

My favourite Plutarchan question is Concerning the Suitable Time for Coition in book 3. It’s actually a group of young men that bring up the subject. They’re horrified because Epicurus introduced the “unseemly” topic in his Symposium (note, Mr. de Botton, Epicurus wrote about dinner-parties as well). A doctor called Zopyrus contradicts the modest youngsters, suggesting that it’s only right and proper for a philosopher to talk about such matters. “For my part,” he says, “I wish that Zeno had put his remarks on ‘thigh-spreading’ in the playful context of some dinner-party piece and not in his Government, a work which aims at such great seriousness.”

Philosophical conversation doesn’t have to be about deep subjects like life and death. Philosophers should not start tedious arguments (I paraphrase Plutarch) or make people uncomfortable. Plutarch prefers to sprinkle philosophy in with seriousness so he can teach his subject subtly. Even the imposing Plato makes the comic playwright Aristophanes a character at his Symposium, to brighten the narrative.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that de Botton’s parties don’t sound like that much fun. De B. doesn’t drink, he says; he likes to set friends up but often one person takes advantage of the other. And he ends with this: “I think the ideal note a dinner party should end on is everyone feeling that we should all live in a commune, or couples going away thinking: ‘It’s so much better to be in a big group than just us.’

Compare and contrast Xenophon, 4th century BC: at the end of his Symposium, an actor and actress perform a risque erotic scene, showing Dionysus making love to Ariadne, and mixing representation with reality. It’s so highly charged that afterwards the guests all rush off home: “Whilst those of them who were unmarried swore that they would wed, those who were wedded mounted their horses and galloped off to join their wives, in quest of married joys.”

Sex and the, er, Abu Dhabi

Posted in New York by Frieda on May 26, 2010

Carrie in the good old days

SATC2 is nigh upon us, opening in the US tomorrow. Already the soundtrack is out in stores, the HBO shop is selling relevant memento items, and swarovski crystal is advertising champagne toasting flutes like those Big holds in his very own hands. If I sound jaded others are less so. The facebook group has 1.7 million fans and women have apparently (according to reports) block-booked seats in the opening shows. Tomorrow, it seems, the city will be awash with women stalking the streets in stilettos as part of SATC2 celebrations.

Yesterday I paused in mid-town to take a closer look at a huge SATC poster pinned up in the entrance to an indoor car park. I’d heard the women’s faces are so stretched and airbrushed that they look barely human. Up close it’s true: Carrie’s eyes bear an alien hood of makeup, she’s wild-looking, whirling her transparent skirt and has her mouth open for no particular reason. Also odd is Samantha: with doe-eyed blond innocence she looks as though she could be at a high school prom, even though the film, and real life, puts her somewhere in the age-range of fifty.

The film looks dire. Watching the trailer I was appalled to see the trip-to-foreignland (aka Abu Dhabi) twist, which is the movie-plot version of what lazy primary-school students write when they don’t know how to finish essays. “Then I woke up and realized it was a dream.”

Reviewers have rightly called out the naive orientalism of the Abu Dhabi journey. Nick McGeehan pointed out the UAE’s appalling record on women’s rights in the Guardian, sadly crying, “Carrie, this is wrong”! Hadley Freeman put it best: “Not since 1942’s Arabian Nights has orientalism been portrayed so unironically. All Middle Eastern men are shot in a sparkly light with jingly jangly music just in case you didn’t get that these dusky people are exotic and different. Even leaving aside the question of why anyone would go on holiday to Abu Dhabi, everyone who has ever watched a TV show knows that the first rule is: don’t take characters out of their usual environment.”

Several outlets have had men review the film as if part of a cruel experiment. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw gives it one star (“boring”); David Edelstein dubs it “depressing” at NYMag; for Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, it’s an “endless nightmare.” It’s intriguing that the Guardian and Salon have both male and female journalists assess the film. We rarely get a specifically female take on “bromance” movies or sci-fi. Something about SATC makes it so gendered that one person’s panning is not enough.

Meanwhile at least one US critic — and yes, a woman — has attempted a defence. Heather Havrileskey calls it “cathartic” and says female friendship is important. She makes the fair point that “Any movie that women choose to see in droves will immediately be written off as silly.” But when she argues “The truth is that there just aren’t that many smart, fun stories about women friends to choose from — others have tried, and mostly failed. It’s no small feat to tackle the female psyche,” I have to disagree. What about Kissing Jessica Stein? What about the Sex and the City series? Is it any easier, by the way, to write about the complex psyches of men, or of people in general?

Michael Patrick King’s the culprit; he wrote and directed SATC2. When George Eliot wrote “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” in 1856 she lamented the “particular quality of silliness that predominates in them–the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic.” SATC2 is certainly a silly frothy film about ladies; we can take some comfort in the knowledge that it’s been penned by a man.

*************

Last night I went to see a five-woman comedy show called Powersuits at the Upright Citizens Brigate Theater. I realized I’ve never seen women do comedy before. Andrea Rosen, Giulia Rozzi, Brooke Van Poppelen and Arden Myrinwomen were all in their early thirties, while the headline act, Janeane Garofalo, was a bit older and had been in Reality Bites. They contradicted the stereotypical notion I discovered I held, that comediennes are either dorky or dowdy: they were gloriously glamorous, as well as witty and fun.

There certainly are smart sassy sexy New York women out there. The thing is seems there’s no evidence of them in SATC2.

PS. I accept, I haven’t seen the film, but I have watched the trailer. If it’s good, I promise I’ll recant.

PPS. The New York Times has a gentle, fair review plus lots of clips. Take a look.

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Recommended: Twigs hair salon

Posted in Local, New York by Frieda on May 18, 2010

Julie Reale, one of three stylists at Twigs

My second post in the Things I Love about New York series. This time it’s a Manhattan hair salon!

One Friday night in autumn 2008 when I first arrived in New York and had little else to do, I was wandering around the East Village. I spotted a hair salon and popped in for a cut. There I met Julie Reale, a blond, tattoed, talented stylist who would become my New York Hairdresser. She whispered to me that she was about to leave that salon and set up on her own. We exchanged contact details.

Just a few weeks later she’d set up Twigs, a delightful salon further east in Alphabet City. It’s a supercool place: the decor is warm and simple. The floors are wooden, and flickering green silver birch screens adorn the walls. In the basement a red wood-stove-light creates a sort of ski-resort feel. The building may or may not have been a rub-and-tug brothel in an earlier incarnation, but Reale and her friends Janell Waddington and Kristiana Andrews transformed it into a cosy, bright space.

Most importantly, Reale’s cuts are good value (starting at $85) and consistently excellent. I’ve received compliments on my hair from strangers and friends in Dublin, New York and San Francisco. Once at a book launch, a random woman started taking photos of me, sweetly explaining it was my haircut, not me, that she wanted to snap.

One of the impressive things about this business is that the girls set it up at the peak of the recession, yet it’s fared extremely well. Reale says she’s noticed a trend. “There’s a lot of stuff closing down, but I feel that a lot of really nicer places are opening up,” she says. That makes sense. Another business I know that flourished in the last two years  is Roots cafe in Brooklyn, which like Twigs provides a friendly, high-quality experience.

Twigs salon

The downturn brought other benefits. “Because of the recession, we got to negotiate on everything,” Reale explains. She and the other girls had been pushed out of a former salon by the high rents they paid for chairs, but with their own salon they could do deals. “The landlord, the contractor; people are willing to be more flexible.”

Reale is from Albany but she’s a de facto New Yorker. She’s lived in the city for 12 years, and shares a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village with her boyfriend. From an early age, she wanted to be a hairdresser. “I met my sister’s friend who was a hairstylist, when I was a kid,” she explains. “She looked like Joan Jett and had a really cool car. And I thought, I wanted to be like her.”

It’s a flexible job. “We don’t have to work in flourescent lighting, there are no cubicles. And you don’t get secretary spread!” she says. Incidentally this ties in with an article on happiness in the Guardian last month, which said that hairdressers rank as the happiest workers in the UK.

Reale’s apartment is also shared by two dogs, and a cat. In her spare time she works on her own canine-fashion website called The Punky Pup, an excessively cute business that sells punk rock t-shirts, collars, tanktops and accessories, for pets.

East Village is sometimes overrun with NYU students and tourists (especially at the weekend), but Alphabet City, named because it begins at Avenue A, is just a little ways off from that, and it’s more diverse and residential. The whole area was Patti Smith territory in the ’60s and ’70s — the rockstar gave her first poetry reading at St. Mark’s church — and it’s rich with history, late night second-hand bookshops, family-owned pizza joints, design stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

In short, go there. And get your hair cut.

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Booked by the cops!

Posted in Irish, Local, New York by Frieda on May 13, 2010

My local station

“Where’s your ID? Are you here legally?” The two police spoke at the same time, loud and threatening, as if that was all they cared about. I was very glad to be a US citizen. And mad at myself for getting caught. “Are you here legally?” Officer Daly repeated. “Oh, come on,” I said, “My dad was American, I’m a citizen. Come on.” He stopped asking.

But I realized how bad it would have been if I’d been illegal, like so many other immigrants in New York. This is when you get caught: a small misdeamour or mistake and you’re on the plane back to Ireland, never to return. That Thursday, I was on my way back from an event at the Irish consulate, where I’d lunched with senior Irish educationalists at a networking event. I was wearing a short black dress, silver pearls and a blazer. I hopped into the 5th Avenue station and used my monthly card. Then I decided to step out again and make a call, to see if a Manhattan friend would like to meet for a drink. She wasn’t in, so I went down to the train again, but this time, as is usual with New York metro cards, my card ($89) wouldn’t work — you need to wait 18 minutes between use.

Feeling a bit rebellious, I snuck under the turnstyle — or “crept under” as my charge card later stated. In fact I’d done it earlier that week rushing to catch a train at my local station, and not gotten caught. Who cares? I thought. I’ve paid for monthly travel.

I was scooting down the platform when my eyes were drawn towards Officer Almodovar. He was smiling at me, and beckoned me to him. At first I smiled too, thinking he’d chastise me and let me go, but as he took my name, address and phone number, writing with incredible slowness, I realized that wasn’t to be. I pleaded, begged, told the officers they’d ruined my day, and finally became stonily silent. The fine was $100.

“But I paid, I have a monthly card!” I argued, several times. “We can’t bend the rules for anyone,” explained Daly with determined logic. He was a narrow-faced fair-skinned short-haired man several years younger than me. “We can’t have different rules for different people.” He pointed out I could have asked the attendant to let me through and this wouldn’t have happened. Not that I’d known that. He started to give me advice on how to get an ID card so I wouldn’t have to show my horrible, out-of-date NYU ID. He was quite nice. Meanwhile middle-aged Almodovar grinned in a way that made my blood boil. Commuters looked at me in surprise as they went by — a nice young woman in a posh part of town, getting booked by the cops.

Last night over drinks, I discussed this with a friend, a German science post-doc. who works at NYU. He told me how he’d been rushing for a train late one evening, and his card was out of money. He sped under the barrier, to find a cop on the other side. “In France, or Germany, there’s always some leeway, you can talk to them,” he said. “But not here. They were really serious and aggressive.” He’d gone through the same emotional cycle as me: friendly surprise, smiles at the cops; attempts to chat and plead; ending up in aggrieved silence.

“It’s $100,” Almodovar said when he’d written down all my details, with faux-reassurance adding, “We’re going to say that you broke the rules but it’s not a criminal act.” I asked if there were alternatives to payment. “You can turn up to a summons, if you want to.”

“Thanks, guys,” I said over my shoulder, as I headed off in a blackened mood. See you in court, I was thinking, already formulating arguments. It felt as if people were still staring; I was trembling, and too embarrassed to look at the yellow slip documenting my crime.

I’ve since mislaid the little yellow sheet, but my hearing’s sometime between 8.30am and 2.30pm on June 4th, in the not-very-glamorous MTA adjudication bureau.

I know I was in the wrong. But my crime was technical, not moral. I’d bought the bloody metrocard after all. I just hope the judge will agree.

For more info. see the MTA rules of conduct.

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The Craigslist cabinet

Posted in New York, Real estate by Frieda on April 27, 2010

Cabinet of Wonders = "a place where things of interest are set out, in possibly bizarre, possibly fetishistic presentation, for perusal by the discerning."*

I know it’s somewhat cheating to cull material from Craigslist. It’s such a diverse, colorful and infinite store of both good and evil that my personal research could never match it. I’m going to do it, though, just this once, in relation to my recent search for a new home. I kept a record of the creepiest ads I found and here are two of the most intriguing.

For $550 (Bushwick, Brooklyn):
“I have beautiful loft, I use for teaching my Yoga like classes looking to share with some who teaches Dance, or Yoga Meditation, Healing massage therapy, music acting or Photography…

“We are approaching an era where many of us know that without Vision people perish, and you know this posting is slightly unusual. But I think there are many creative people out there friends we haven’t met yet. With great talents in many different areas who are willing to try different ways of thinking an operating and there by creating new Venues for creative Expressions.

“If you think you’re one of those people then respond accordingly and lets be productive . This is not just a New Year but a New Decade where a new You must emerge better than you were before, leaving behind the old ways of limited hurtful fearful ways of thinking, and Begin anew living by faith and not sight because you have an inner Vision and know that nothing is impossible. You owe it to yourself to live creatively and joy-filled, Remember No guts No Glory.”

For $700 (Soho, Manhattan):
“Ultra-modern, brand new, soho duplex with 2 large bedrooms upstairs, one available to rent. Fully furnished. Huge 20-foot floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Broadway. Huge living room, huge open-space eat-in kitchen. Upstairs: shower, toilet. Downstairs: whirlpool bath, toilet.

“It’s posted at 700 but the rent can be dramatically reduced for the right female looking to … entertain me. I am in my late 20’s and in good shape.

“YOU must be highly attractive. All I need is some company in my lonely life because of my hectic work schedule. Your rent will be reduced based upon how … happy you make me, although things won’t work out if there is no chemistry between us. You are welcome to have your own life and friends over etc and I will keep any arrangements secret. I am discreet.

“Look forward to your response. Pictures a must.”

I don’t know. Do you get this in London?

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*All true of Craiglist except “discerning.” The definition, and the image, came from this blog.

Moving house — most stressful?

Posted in Brooklyn, New York, Real estate by Frieda on April 27, 2010

It's never that simple.

We all know that statistic — that moving house is the third most traumatic life experience you can have after death of a loved one and divorce (I even checked the fact; let’s believe the NS). Blissfully ignoring this stat I’ve moved house four times in the past year-and-a-half and am about to depart for a fifth new home. When I told a prospective housemate about it he said this meant I was a nomad. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

In London and probably Dublin too, moving house is tough, but New York takes the cake. Real estate has a grand narrative here; it’s a site of tragedy and (less often) comedy. There are gossip blogs about it, local blogs, newspaper sections, and specialist blogs, all testifying to the passions that lie within the New York housing market.

In the past moving has stressed me out but this time I was determined to stay calm; which was a good thing. Let me tell you a few stories.

I saw several places before making my decision. The third was a commune/co-op where food and chores were shared among six occupants. Everyone was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop. There were two guys and four girls. The house was a gorgeous Park Slope brownstone with original 19th century features. A little old lady owned it  and it had been a commune since the 70s. At $800 per month including bills it was a steal, for New York. And it wasn’t a cult (I asked). So far, so innocuous.

One of the two men, tall and affable, gave me the tour. Then I went downstairs to the kitchen where seven or eight other prospective housemates were milling around with anxious eyes. We each had to make sure to speak to each of the five housemates because if we didn’t we’d automatically be disqualified. That was more or less fine, until one girl said to me: “So! Tell me about yourself.” It was too abrupt, and job-interview-like. But, of course, worse was to follow. We were given sheets of paper to fill out, with five or six different questions, including “What are the strengths and skills you’d bring to this house?” and “Why should we choose you?” Then, in case we were not memorable, each of us had to stand, holding a piece of paper with our name on it to our chest, while one of the housemates took a photo.

So I didn’t get that room. I got one much nicer, in an artists’ commune in a converted factory in Prospect Heights — here’s a pic:

My new apartment! (entrance)

When I gave the landlord, who will be a housemate, my deposit last weekend he said, “Oh, I think the roof leaks by the way. Did I mention that?” He hadn’t. But I am hopeful.

I kept a record of the weirdest housing ads I found on craigslist. Here are two you might enjoy.

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[I got the pic from Brownstoner.com]

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Poet of the sky

Posted in New York by Frieda on April 13, 2010

Philippe Petit

If you’re afraid of heights, or risks, you should take a look at this video as a sort of exposure therapy. In 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit stretched a cable from one of the Twin Towers to the other, and spent an hour walking back and forth between them with no net beneath. Actually, he didn’t just walk, he ran, lay down, and spent time looking at the people 1,350 feet below. You can see a wonderfully dated newsreel about it here.

It’s old news now of course, and it has become part of New York’s mythology. The novelist Paul Auster said the walk was “a gift of astonishing, indelible beauty to New York.” Petit wrote two books about it over the years, Man on a Wire and To Reach the Clouds, and his film won awards at Sundance in 2008. Last year Irish writer Colum McCann wrote a fine literary response to Petit’s highwire act, Let the Great World Spin.

Petit walked back and forth eight times.

McCann gave several talks in New York and I heard him speak. He said that in his book, which Esquire described as “the first great 9/11 novel,” he wanted to dwell on an act of creativity that countered the destruction of 2001. I’m almost finished reading it now, and it is indeed very good, though it took me a little while to get into and I’m finding it marred by having too many characters and plots — I keep wanting to find out more about one group, only to discover that the story has moved on.

Nor did I get the significance of the tight-rope walk right away: who cares, really, about a circus act?

He dangles his leg and looks down.

When I discussed the novel with a friend, she told me I should see the film Man on a Wire, and then I’d understand. That’s when I watched the Youtube clips and found these unforgettable photos. I was entranced.

I still am, not just by the walk itself, but by Petit’s impish smile as he afterwards told an interviewer: “There is no why. Just because, when I see a beautiful place to put my wire, I cannot resist.”

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Waiting for paint to dry

Posted in Brooklyn, Local by Frieda on April 9, 2010

My house in Brooklyn, today: picturesque, no?

This is what I came home to on Tuesday. Our landlord — who’s otherwise very nice — has made an executive decision to paint the front door dark green and to further improve our living situation by retiling the porch. Today I returned around lunchtime to find both the main door and the door of our apartment wide open (the green paint was drying). This was annoying. Our little cat Booboo could have made a bid for freedom and met her end on the street outside. More crucially, someone could have crept into my bedroom and stolen some of my stuff.

I came in and sat down in the kitchen to do some work. But the big orange contraption you can see in the photo started to make the beep — beep — beep sound that it has been making all week from 8.30 am onwards. I flew out the door in a rage to ask the men who were working (now doing something on the third floor as you can see) to keep it down.

The door slammed behind me and all of a sudden I was outside without phone or keys or purse. I shouted up to the men asking if they had keys. They didn’t, our landlord’s dad had opened the door for them that morning. How about the landlord or his dad? They were at work.

The younger of the men, a pallid guy in his early twenties with short spiky hair who spoke with an unidentifiable accent, climbed in the upstairs window and came downstairs to help me. Taking a set of cards from his wallet he began to slide one into the lock to open our door, with worrying expertise. The trick failed. Then, when I told him the back door was open, he knocked on the upstairs apartment. After, I have to assume, leaping off the roof and entering through the back door, he opened my front door from the inside and politely let me in.

An emergency was averted, I wasn’t going to have to sit on my steps for hours waiting for a key-bearer to arrive. I could feel ambiguous relief: the people working on our apartment, performing whatever mysterious tasks they’re engaged in, are friendly and helpful and chivalrous; they just happen to be good at breaking into houses too.

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