May 27, 2007

113: The Large Apple

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Top row (left to right): sundown at Grand Central Station; aesthetics is king at the MoMA. Middle row (left to right): gentoo penguin at the Central Park Zoo; goofs in Central Park; Murray's Cheese in Greenwich Village. Bottom row (left to right): my favouritest skyscraper in the world, the Chrysler Building; a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Kerry and I finally made good on our promise to do New York last week. Our visit to the city made famous by Crocodile Dundee, Hercules In New York and the 1976 remake of King Kong was a packed and thrilling experience. And so I give you, in typical Letterman fashion (where rank means nothing), my Top 10 of our week spent in New York City:

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I live for the view of things, so the opportunity to glimpse Manhattan from the peak of Rockefeller Center was a high moment (nyuk nyuk). We avoided the crowded observation deck at the Empire State Building – and in hindsight, our view offered one key glimpse it didn't anyway: the Empire State Building.

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And lo, on the sixth day of our vacation, there was Fleet Week. We didn't witness the full-on revelry of New York City mixed with thousands of sailors on leave, but it was still pretty cool and old-timey to see them in full regalia, mixed in with the crowds on Wednesday night as we showed up at Times Square for our final minutes on holiday.

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Chelsea was where we called home for more than half our time spent in New York, spending two nights at the Chelsea International Hostel and a final, sleepy night at the Chelsea Hotel to satiate Kerry's Leonard Cohen fix (and where the neon marquée shone "Chelsea Ho" – until the night I decided to photograph it). I loved this area, just a touch slower and calmer than the rest. It was here we had a quiet bench breakfast outside Café Grumpy, burritos the size of your head at Salsa Y Salsa and also where I saw my first New York transvestite.

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In either of Kerry's two previous visits to New York, she had never walked the Brooklyn Bridge. So we stuffed this, our only sojourn off the island, into our somewhat-loose schedule on a gorgeous Monday afternoon. Our brief apple break at Empire State Park (curiously, we ate quite a few apples during our trip), and the view it provided, were quiet highlights.

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The single largest gobbler of our time was spent walking the streets, either aimlessly – as it was on Friday and Wednesday nights, saying hello and goodbye, respectively, to the city – or with purpose as we headed to one destination or another. It was during these moments that we established our bearings, slowly learned the subtler points of jaywalking and crowd avoidance, and witnessed all manner of things I had only heard about. Examples: rim-bedecked Escalades really do exist, New Yorkers really do curse a blue streak, and the NYPD really does patrol on segways. Whether trotting along Fifth or Park, meandering through the Village or strolling along 8th Avenue, we more than got our fill of daily life.

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We were not check-listing tourists. We did not hop on or off the bright red buses circling about. Didn't take in a Broadway show or step on the Staten Island Ferry. Didn't visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, the Met or the American Museum of Natural History. But that wasn't to say we didn't have a tasty fill of culture, taking in the refurbished Museum of Modern Art with Philly phriends Melissa and Rob on Sunday, and the currently-refurbishing Guggenheim on Wednesday (after a tiny sidestep to the Museum of American Illustration down the way).

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It was my co-worker who introduced us to the prospect of a walking food tour, which she partook in on her own visit in the winter. We decided to do likewise, signing up for the Monday Greenwich Village food tour. It was a scene, a three-hour saunter through the neighbourhood's cuter streets and establishments such as Rocco's Bakery, Bleecker Street Pizza, Murray's Cheese and the Cornelia Street Café (which we returned to Wednesday night for a wine-included, six-dollar poetry reading). Pizza, cannoli, chocolates, cheese, more sweets, more pizza, this, that and the other – supoib.

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My fledgling trip to New York (and Kerry's third visit) was made so much the sweeter with the input, guidance and experience of a select few folks we hooked up with during the week. Despite the city's best efforts to make us feel back home in Winnipeg with cool, drizzly weather, Melissa and Rob showed us the finer points of Manhattan, taking us on a straight-line tour of the island's gut from midtown to Soho. Toss in a one-block dash of Saturday Chinatown madness, Mel's promise redeemed of a store that sells insect lollipops and taxidermized chipmunks ($250!), mice and kittens, and an escape-from-the-rain panini lunch at Caffe Reggio – and well, a good time on your hands is what you have right there.

Kerry's cousin Sibyl, and husband Paul, in Greenwich Village also played a key role in allowing us to feel right at home as New Yorkers, graciously accepting us into their place for three nights and treating us to a barbecue, two crazy cats, a viewing of the third-last episode of The Sopranos (in New York, how cool is that?) and a valuable-beyond-words home base for our visit to the city's more bohemian quarters.

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I have to get this out. When we decided to visit New York, the first thing that sprang into my head was seeing a penguin. And not just any penguins, but the purportedly-gay chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo made famous in Canuck comedienne Samantha Bee's report on The Daily Show (referring to them, amazingly straight-faced, as "strap-ons"). These birds did not disappoint me in amusing, and I don't mean that in a gay sense – not that there's anything wrong with that.

And neither did the park in general, where we spent portions of three days over our time in the city. Central Park quite possibly serves as the premier example of foresight in urban planning, a place where nearly all city noise is muffled and our days slowed down. We lolled Sunday afternoon away in Sheep Meadow watching the city's inhabitants crawl out after a cold and rainy weekend, spent Tuesday on rental bikes and at the Zoo and cut through on Wednesday, stopping at Belvedere Castle and Strawberry Fields.

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To step into the cavernous and venerable Radio City Music Hall was a trip in itself. But to have the stage occupied by Damien Rice, playing in support of a new album to a 6,000-strong, four-balcony sold out venue only cinches Monday night as my highlight of our time spent in Manhattan. From aching piano ballads like "Accidental Babies" and the angry opener "9 Crimes" to raucous and all-out full-band numbers like "Me, My Yoke and I", Rice’s show was heart-stopping, and an exercise in tempo, rolling through a peppy "Coconut Skins" (turning into a kickass jam session), a mic-less and crowd-shushing "Cannonball" and the rollicking crescendo of "I Remember".

That show, midway through our trip, was accented nicely by two other live entertainment experiences. One was a taping of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on Tuesday (the guest was U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, but a green-screened 'live' remote by Aasif Mandvi and a report from Dan Bakkedahl kept things nicely humming). The other show, a hilariously blue stand-up performance at MSG's theatre from frumpy Brit Ricky Gervais, was equally fine. A surprise introduction by David Bowie, singing "The Little Fat Man (With The Pug-Nosed Face)" from Gervais' show Extras, provided our only unexpected celebrity sighting.

Oh yeah: I have a few hundred pictures to sort through, and the best-est ones will be on display at my Flickr site over the days to come. I'll be sure to post a link to the photo-set when it's ready to go, but in the meantime keep your eyes on the fancy Flickr widget at top left for anything recently added.

May 24, 2007

Hey, Sailor

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An intriguing placeholder, while I churn through the scores of photos I've taken from a trip to New York City that Kerry and I just wrapped up. Coles Notes version, though? Awesome.

May 14, 2007

112: Such Great Heights

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Kerry surprised me last fall by booking me for a late-season flight over the
city in a hot air balloon. But my birthday being when it is, the reserved date didn't pan out because of poor weather ­ – then the ballooning season promptly ended for the year. So after a long, balloonless winter on the ground and in the snow, the trip finally came to fruition this past weekend ­ under sunny morning skies and ideal conditions.

Launching from Whittier Park, across the Red River from downtown, the excursion took myself and five other passengers in a northwest direction, arching around the north side of downtown office towers and the Exchange District, then following Notre Dame Avenue to Red River College (my alma mater), the airport and over a patchwork of fields within the Perimeter Highway. And though I'd been told the rides are eerily quiet (with exception of occasional hair-scorching blasts from the propane tanks), the early Saturday morning flight took silence to new levels as most people were still asleep in their beds as we ventured out. Thoroughfares were largely empty, and with winds low the clearest noises were amazingly from birds ­ – gulls, blackbirds, robins and meadowlarks leading the charge.

Highlights included the launch itself, rising from a grass lot surrounded by trees to see the skyline beyond, as well as demonstrations of the pilot's skill as he skipped our basket along the airport's main runway during a moment of arrival/departure downtime ("it's not every airport that allows us to do this", he mentioned), and a rapid ascent that followed in order to hold a position directly over a landing jet plane. Our haute-rageously french pilot Serge had a deft hand at maneuvering such a seemingly uncontrollable craft, guiding our group to a "passive landing" on a gravel service road (the alternative on windier days, I learned, can involve skidding for several metres at a 45-degree angle).

A small collection of 20-odd photos from the morning can be seen here, including closer views of ones featured in the grid below, and a much better look at the seven-photo stitched panorama above.

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Top row (left to right): Serge checks out the interior as the balloon inflates; our shadow as we rise out of Whittier Park; a jumble of buildings in Winnipeg's downtown. Middle row (left to right): abstract streetscape of the Exchange District; Serge (quel pilote!); tree canopy abstract of Brookside Cemetery. Bottom row (left to right): lifeblood; farm field abstract; a post-ballooning champagne toast.

May 13, 2007

111: The HOWieZine Cometh, Part VII

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After a long breather, the ageless HOWieZine project rolled back into gear, heralded by the arrival of the latest issue – themed myths and legends – to my desk at work last week. I submitted a page for the book (which I discovered in the end to be a wonderful box design containing each entrant's work loose inside) early in the new year that featured a bit of design, illustration and photography.

My first page (above) featured the raven sketch I modified and passed on to Illustration Friday for their recent theme of polar, which I actually drew in advance of the zine's deadline around Christmas and on a winter vacation in Cuba. Here, the raven is surrounded by a field-guide description and a short mythological tale of the bird from the Pacific Northwest. The strong presence of the raven among New World folklore was a primary influence on this page, but moreso the theme gave me a chance to do what I love most if I'm drawing: sketching birds in pen.

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One of those you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it moments was the inspiration for my second page (above). Last fall Kerry and I ducked over to a neighbourhood coffee shop, where through the window I noticed this television-headed man with a handycam-toting friend, preparing to shoot a scene for a film assignment (my guess anyways – and for their sake I hope it's true). Living a half-block away, I discarded any pretensions and basically told them to wait while I ran home and nabbed my camera. So while my first zine page covers the territory of myth, my snapshot of this dude stands in for legend – and my interpretation of a legend in his own mind. My Flickr link for the original shot acheived the understandable what the? response, and also offers access to a better-quality look.

May 06, 2007

Beware The Soccer Mom

"You know, we're living in a society here!" – a frustrated George
Costanza (Jason Alexander), on

THE DEAL AT SAFEWAY on the first Tuesday of every month – Customer Appreciation Day, ironically – is that shoppers have a choice between receiving bonus Air Miles or ten percent off their purchases, providing they're at least thirty-five dollars. So to our amusement upon reaching the mysteriously short lineup at Checkout Number One, an interesting standoff was going down between a newbie cashier and a belligerent, denim-clad, bronzed-beyond-recognition soccer mom ...

Soccer Mom: I wanna know why I don't get the deal. I should have the choice between ten percent off or the Air Miles, right? That’s the deal.

Poor Pimples, The Junior Cashier: Well, it's a minimum thirty-five dollars purchase for that to happen.

SM: I did spend thirty-five dollars!

PP: Yes, but that was before I swiped your Club Card. Now it's $30.72.

SM: So then how many Air Miles could I get?

PP: Well, that would depend on what you bought.

SM: And what's ten percent of thirty-five?

PP: Well – it doesn't – your total isn't high enough for the discount.

Next-In-Line Lady: It's three-fifty.

SM: How did you just figure that out?

NILL: Ten into thirty-five is three-fifty. You just move the decimal over.

SM: Thank you. See, now that makes sense.

A few more minutes pass as the details and description of the store's offer are rehashed between Soccer Mom and the cashier.

NILL: Oh come on – this is stupid. Lady, it's just three dollars.

SM: Yeah? Go to another f**king line if you don't like it.

NILL: I am going to another line. I don't have to take this.

SM (leaning in, nearly nose-to-nose): Lady, you're lucky I don't smack you in the f**king face.

NILL (rounding up her things): You’re crazy!

SM: Yeah, yeah, that's right. I'm a crazy b*tch.

At this point a manager is brought in to officially cave to Soccer Mom's demands, but moreso to avoid an even bigger scene. We've done well to avoid participation, but as she readies to leave she finally acknowledges us.

SM: And I'm not apologizing for anything.

May 04, 2007

110: Huit Hiboux

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Top row (left to right): Inuit soapstone carving, perforated metal candle lantern, Peruvian carved wood owl. Middle row (left to right): Panamanian marble owl, portrait of my avatar owl (click here for all the backstory on how it was created), Guatemalan carved wood owl. Bottom row (left to right): Inuit-themed soapstone carving from Banff National Park, Kenyan-made stone owl carving.

I've used our unfinished basement for shots in the past, such as for PhotoFortnight's theme of night, and also when I snap pictures of jack-o-lanterns (you begin to get a sense the basement lends itself to imagery of a creepy bent). I secluded myself there recently for a brief exercise in candlelight photography. I used a pair of those ubiquitous IKEA tea lights to help with these one- to two-second exposure shots of owl collectibles and carvings that sit atop a mantle in our home's foyer (I also took photos of a stone garden gargoyle and a heavy iron hippo, which didn't make the cut for the owl-theme's sake). These owls came from a variety of sources; many are gifts from my mom who has headed to Central America the past few winters (and is currently trekking across Colombia and Ecuador).

Click here for a closer look at the grid layout above.