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May 12th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Days Getting Longer & Sunsets Lasting Longer

For the first time this year in NYC, the sunset fell after 8pm last night, a kind of celestial milestone on the way to the Summer Solstice June 20th. I pedaled along the Cherry Walk and took a lot of pictures down there along the Hudson River, as the daylight ebbed away, amid a prolonged symphony of color and light. Here’s a thumbnail of those photos just now added to my Flickr album that’s labeled GGB/Sunsets/Hudson. Please visit there for a full sampling of images

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May 10th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Exuberant Kids on NY’s Restored High Bridge

As I wrote on this blog in 2013, New York City’s High Bridge is a pedestrian walkway that “connected the Bronx and Manhattan beginning in 1842, an interboro link across the Harlem River that was built to bring fresh water via the Croton Aqueduct in to Gotham. The span connects 170th Street in the Bronx to 173rd Street in Manhattan. In a deliciously arcane example of NYC geography, [a reporter] points out, that’s ‘West 173rd Street and not East,’ though this is the east side of Manhattan, ‘Because it is technically west of 5th Avenue,’ the east-west midpoint of the island for street-naming purposes.”

When I wrote that in 2013 a full renovation of the span was underway, and a few months ago it reopened to the public. Last fall I pedaled up to High Bridge for my first look at the restoration of the span. Here are some pictures I took that day when I was fortunate to come upon some children playing on the new walkway. 1 Exuberant kids on High Bridge 2 Exuberant kids on High Bridge 3 Exuberant kids on High Bridge 4 Exberant kinds on High Bridge

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March 29th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Photos from the Wild, Windy Edge of March

Monday dawned gray, rainy, and chilly in New York City. Yet, by around 3pm a new weather front had blown in from the south—in itself unusual—laced with rising barometric pressure, wind gusts that exceeded 40 mph, racing clouds, whitecaps on the Hudson River, higher temperatures, and bright sunshine that lasted until well after 7pm. I was out on my bike as the weather shifted, and despite getting pushed around like a paper sailboat on a lake, I managed to pedal along the river all the way up to what I call Hudson Beach and the Great Gray Bridge. Here are my best pictures from the hours that I enjoyed riding around and reveling in the elements.

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March 17th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

National Book Critics Circle Annual Finalist Readings, March 16 2016

Margo JeffersonThe National Book Critics Circle’s annual literary extravaganza began last night, a two-night affair I’ve attended every year since the early 2000s (and written about on this blog before). Last night 25 of the authors whose books are finalists for the awards in the six categories which will be given tonight read from their books. No admission charge for the readings or the awards tomorrow, NY’s best free literary program every year. There’s a post-awards benefit tomorrow night, the only part of the wordfest that carries a charge. I’ll be there again tonight. Glad I got good pictures in the darkened auditorium at The New School on West 12th St.

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March 9th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

Catching a Precious Part of the Day, Pictures March 9 2016

With March advancing toward mid-month, Iit keeps getting dark later everyday, and on a fine day such as this one was, it was light until past 6:30. I’ve been under the weather, and so not riding my bike this week, but I got down to the Hudson River for the first time in several days late this afternoon, leaving my home office after 5:00. I left work on my desk, lest I lose the chance to see how today’s sunset would turn out, and I wondered if I’d catch much of the light. As many who know me and this blog may attest, I have an appetite for late afternoon light. The amazing thing about living on the west side of Manhattan? We happen to have great sunsets, especially right at the river edge, or standing on the bluff above in Riverside Park, peering across to the river, with New Jersey on the far shore, and the rest of the continent beyond. I live near the park, and appreciate this practically every day. My appreciation of the neighborhood—the enchanted landscape and majestic bridge amid all the urban-ness, with people running, biking, walking dogs, plus the noise, aircraft overhead, traffic rushing by on the West Side Highway, and the light—began in 1990. I moved to the upper west side that year and had a Senior Editor job with Prentice Hall Press, then a division of Simon & Schuster. PHP staff were located—not in Rockefeller Center as S&S was, and is still—but in the office tower just north of Columbus Circle known then as the Gulf & Western Building. I had a small office with a window that invited me to peer westward across the Hudson, out toward America. We were on a pretty high floor, above the thirtieth, and it used to really sway in heavy weather. They do that, one hears, but it felt a bit like being on a ship. The building overlooked Central Park on the side away from my office, a great nabe to work in from July 1990-July 1991.

Quick as I could, I scrambled down there on foot and found the light this evening was extraordinary, and still evolving as a long drawn out event. These picture were taken near the Oscar Hijuelos Tennis Courts, the handsome clay ones, located along Manhattan’s west side river at around 96th St. It was one of the finest sunsets in all the years I’ve been photographing the Great Gray Bridge, the shore, upper Manhattan, the New Jersey side, always reveling in the light and atmosphere, and it lasted longer than most. You may click here to see more from tonight. And, if you want to see more photos like these, you can visit my flickr album labeled “GGB/sunsets/Hudson.”

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February 13th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Pictures of the Week along the Hudson River—Sunsets, Clouds, and the Great Gray Bridge

Although today’s temperature is 17 degrees, several days in the past week I was able to ride my bike along the Hudson River and got some great pictures. I hope you enjoy these views!

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January 16th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

A New Flickr Album Chock-full of Hudson River and Great Gray Bridge Photos

As readers of this blog may’ve noticed, I am fond of photographing the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River, and sunsets along the shoreline on my regular bike rides in upper Manhattan. While I post many of those photographs in my social media accounts (on my Instagram; Facebook; and Twitter accounts), in truth I take more pictures than I can reasonably share on those platforms. Not all are good, but enough are that the circumstance motivated me to start a Flickr album I’ve labeled GGB/sunsets/Hudson as a repository for the greater bulk of those photos. If you enjoy those pictures, as many friends tell me they do, I invite you to visit the Flickr album for many more views of the sort like the ones shown here..
 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127162161@N07/sets/72157663551324326

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December 5th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Appreciating Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, and the Legacy of his Writing

I spent the past couple weeks, amid so much disturbing upheaval in the world outside my reading, deeply enjoying Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel, which Random House published last June. (I had first shared about it on this blog last May.) From Kunkel’s acknowledgments at the end I’ve learned the book was commissioned by Bob Loomis*, the great editor there who, before his retirement in 2012, signed up the book, though the manuscript was evidently delivered after his departure. Mitchell grew up in a tobacco- and cotton-farming family in North Carolina (b. 1908) and, disappointing his father, moved to New York City at twenty-one, determined to become a newspaperman, even amid the Depression; he found work as a copy boy, and soon began reporting and writing, including at the Herald Tribune (where my longtime author, photojournalist Ruth Gruber later worked) and for the World-Telegram, which Mitchell joined in 1930. He began writing for The New Yorker in 1932, and joined the magazine’s staff in 1938. Kunkel’s book is a superb portrait of Mitchell’s whole life, to his death in 1996, and a rich appreciation of his writings.

While reading and really savoring the whole book, every anecdote, every chapter it covers of Mitchell’s life, I took down from a bookshelf my copy of Up in the Old Hotel, the 1992 collection that gathered Mitchell’s Profiles on true-life New York characters, and other work, which back then put Mitchell back on the map for many readers. Until then, his magazine pieces had frequently been gathered up and published between hardcovers—his first My Ears Are Bent, came out in 1938, followed by McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (1943); Old Mr. Flood (1948); The Bottom of the Harbor (1959) and Joe Gould’s Secret (1965)—but it was more than two decades between books when, at the urging of Dan Frank of Pantheon Books, Mitchell published this full omnibus of his work, gathered from those books, and other sources. It made a big splash at the time, getting stellar reviews, and Kunkel tells us that Mitchell welcomed the spotlight that came with being remembered by so many readers, and discovered by even more. 
Mitchell back

I’ve had the book since soon after it came out—my copy’s a first edition. I was around that time editing and preparing to publish a comparable book, A Diary of Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist, by Edward Robb Ellis, a near-contemporary of Mitchell’s, who also worked at the World-Telegram, arriving there in 1947. Like Mitchell, Ellis savored writing about memorable NY characters, people like Fred Bronnenkant, riveter for more than thirty years on the Brooklyn Bridge, who had such affection for the span he regarded it as a kind of mistress**. Though Eddie was not quite the consummate stylist that I now see Mitchell was, like Mitchell, he aspired to make great work. Both men learned writing in the same milieu—the midcentury American newspaper, entirely at NY papers for Mitchell, partly true for Ellis, who before coming to the metropolis for what became the last twenty years of his career as an on-staff feature writer, had worked at papers in New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Peoria, and Chicago.*** They deployed vivid imagery, showed a fondness for lengthy list-making (a penchant embraced in more recent years by New Yorker writer John McPhee), a keen interest in what things cost back in the day, and an appreciation for character, with great skill at presenting to readers the people they encountered.

Seeing the success of Up in the Old Hotel, I recalling buying the book in hopes of imbibing some of that vibe and investing Eddie’s book with it. Though I was interested in Mitchell and his work, as happens for professional editors I got sidetracked from it, and had in fact never read it thoroughly, nor really sensed the charms of Mitchell’s writing until the past couple weeks. During the weeks I was reading the Kunkel bio, I leafed through the 700+page anthology, shown here, and now that I’ve finished the biography, I’m fully able to dive in to it. Last night, I read and enjoyed the third Profile in the anthology, about Mazie Gordon, a denizen of the Bowery, who ran a “moving-picture house” called the Venice Theatre, and who “Detective Kain [of the Oak Street police station] says that she has the roughest tongue and the softest heart in the Third Precinct.” Mitchell chronicles her working life, seated in a glassed-in booth along Park Row, selling movie tickets, and greeting her patrons, some of whom are by her own description “bums” that live in nearby flophouses. She is a key player in the street life near Chatham Square, and the piece includes many conversations she had with bums, cops, priests, and all kinds of urban operators which it seems certain Mitchell overheard. His chronicle of Mazie’s proprietorship of the theatre, and her status in the wider neighborhood, is among the most enjoyable things I’ve read this year.

Here’s the first paragraph of the 1940 profile, titled ‘Mazie’:

“A bossy, yellow-haired blonde named Mazie P. Gordon is a celebrity on the Bowery in the nickel-a-drink saloons and in the all-night restaurants which specialize in pig snouts and cabbage at a dime a platter, she is known by her first name. She makes a round of these establishments practically every night, and drunken bums sometimes come up behind her, slap her on the back, and call her sweetheart. This never annoys her. She has a wry but genuine fondness for bums and is undoubtedly acquainted with more of them than any person in the city. Each day she gives them between five and fifteen dollars in small change….’In my time, I’ve been as free with my dimes and as old John D himself,’ she says. Mazie has presided for twenty-one years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre.”

Now that I’m finished with the biography, I’ve also sought out reviews of it, such as a good one by John Williams in the NY Times, and a very insightful essay by Janet Malcolm in the NY Review of Books; she was a colleague of Mitchell’s at The New Yorker. Kunkel wrote an earlier biography of Harold Ross, founding editor of The New Yorker, who hired Mitchell for the magazine, after his several-year audition as a contributing writer. I’ve never met Kunkel, but I’m glad to say I feel connected to him anyway. As it happens, he reviewed Edward Robb Ellis’s A Diary of Century when it was published in 1995, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, concluding his review in the Washington Post with the praise that Ellis’s diary of an Everyman, “produc[ed] something akin to Copland’s glorious ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.'” I’ll find a way to share this blog post with him, so I can belatedly let him know how glad I am that he enjoyed Eddie Ellis’s book, and I can tell him I felt the same for his superb book on Joseph Mitchell.

* Among Bob Loomis’s authors was William Styron; the courtly editor helped me enlist Styron’s aid in a championing a book I edited in 1999, about an arguably innocent inmate on Virginia’s Death Row. I wrote about that episode in my editorial career in an essay for the BN Review called “William Styron: A Promise Kept.”

**Ellis’s beguiling entry on Frank Bronnenkant is found on pgs 173-75 of A Diary of the Century (Kodansha America, 1995; republished by me at Union Square Press in 2008). Clicking on this link will take you to all my blog posts about Edward Robb Ellis, which includes one that examines the legacy of notorious faker Joe Gould, the subject of Mitchell’s last published Profile, the recently discovered photographer, Vivian Maier, and Ellis, in a 2014 piece I titled “Vivian Maier Was the Real Deal, the Ultra-Opposite of Joe Gould.” The relevance here is that Ellis—whose book was drawn from his diary, a journal he began keeping at age 16, and which he stayed with until 89, the longest-kept such record in the history of American letters—and the secretly great and prolific street photographer Maier did each create a magnum opus, while Gould never did, though Mitchell did believe for a time that he really was writing a seminal work, “The Oral History of our Times.” And yet Mitchell, even after publishing two long profiles of Gould (‘Professor Seagull,’ ’42, rather credulous) and (‘Joe Gould’s Secret,’ ’64, not credulous any longer) did not rebuke Gould. He generously concluded that Gould, some writings by whom he had actually read in the 1940s, had perhaps at least been writing in his mind, as Mitchell did with an uncompleted memoir and novel he never published.

*** For her part, Ruth Gruber, before and after WWII, wrote for the Herald Tribune and the NY Post. Unlike Mitchell and Ellis, she oscillated in and out of journalism, working for a time in the federal government during the FDR Administration, as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes’ special representative to Alaska. Ruth is, so far as I know, the eldest surviving member of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. This post is about a 104th birthday gathering with her this past October.

 

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