the Highline

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When you’re visiting New York City and your friend sends you a text message that says, “Meet me at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue right now, if you’re game—I’ll show you the coolest place in the city,” the answer should always be a resounding yes.  I texted back, “I’m in!” and walked the few blocks to the nearest subway station and headed down to the Chelsea neighborhood to meet her.

I wasn’t at all prepared for what she showed me.  It was a former elevated railroad called the Highline.  Built in the 1930’s, it had long since outlived its usefulness as trucks replaced trains as the prevalent form of freight transportation.  As recently as a few short years ago, it was still a dilapidated eyesore that many people hoped would be demolished, but it was also a pipe dream for people who wanted to see it repaired and possibly used as a public space of some sort.  Luckily, the latter idea won, and today the Highline is an elevated park that is now regarded as many peoples’ favorite place in all of New York City.

It’s designed with sustainable, native plants, and birds even have nests in the bushes and trees that line the edges of the busy pathway.  Rents in buildings near the park have increased significantly.  It’s a very romantic place, and there are lots of couples walking hand in hand and admiring the views of the city while remaining safely above the whirling traffic below.   My friend, who has lived in NYC for two or three years now, was made aware of the park when she went on a first date with a guy who took her there.  It was about this point that she had to bid me adieu, since she had an appointment to keep, but she told me where to go to see the best stretches of the park.  It’s much more than just a walkway, and there are a number of wide areas to sit, or to watch people, or to look at the city, or even to busk on the cello.

This guy was playing Bach’s sixth Cello Suite, which is extraordinarily difficult.  The Cello Suites get progressively more advanced as they go along, so the First (which is one of the most famous in all of classical music) is in the repertoire of almost every cellist, but the mark of a true professional is their ability to play the Suites in their entirety.  This guy was definitely at the professional level, since not only was he playing the sixth Suite, he was playing it flawlessly.  I had wandered in near the beginning of it, and sat across from him as unobtrusively as possible while I watched the remainder of his performance.  When he finished playing for his audience of one, I said, “Bravo,” and walked over to patronize the arts by leaving a couple of bills in his cello case.  He began to play another piece that I didn’t recognize, and I decided to continue walking and exploring some more.

A bit further along, I saw a small group of people doing what appeared to be acting.  I love the Theatah, as those of you who have spent any kind of time on this blog already know, and I used to be a member (and eventually the leader) of a play-reading group, so I sauntered over to give them a listen.  They were rehearsing Shakespeare—his style is unmistakable—and while I love his works, there are only a few that I’m familiar enough with to recognize by tuning in at a random moment.  Luckily, this happened to be one of them, and I believe they were rehearsing a scene from the Scottish Play.

I stayed long enough to figure out which play they were performing, then clicked this picture and continued on my way, since even though they were rehearsing in a public place, it didn’t seem like they wanted to be closely watched.  Plus, I wanted to explore more of the walkway and it was beginning to get dark outside.  I came to a section that was closed off and in the process of being pressure-cleaned, possibly so that a movie scene could be filmed there.

From there I took the detour path, which led to a cute little restaurant area.  I would have loved to stop and enjoy some food and wine—I’ll have to save that for my next trip!—but I was on a mission to get off the platform and explore more of the Chelsea neighborhood.  Suddenly, I heard the sound of a harmonica, followed by a horrific metallic crash.  I headed over to investigate.

It was indeed a harmonica player, and he looked as if he was looking for a specific place to sit.  He was blowing on the harmonica and throwing metal chairs around.  Hoo-ga hoo-ga hoo-ga hoo-ga CRASHhoo-ga hoo-ga hoo-ga hoo-ga CRASH.  The guy sitting there next to him, in the foreground of the picture, never so much as batted an eye.

I took a whole bunch more pictures after that, but the vast majority of them were too blurry to be worth sharing.  Here’s ONE good one of a nearby building. . .

. . .and I even took a picture on the way down, but it’s extremely blurry.  I’m only sharing it because I couldn’t find another picture of the yellowish-green elevator doors, and I wanted them to be represented too, so here you go.

This is only the second installment of the myriad of pictures and stories to come from my time in New York and Massachusetts.  To be continued. . .

the party

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Finally, the phrase ‘the party’ can be used to describe more than just a bizarre Peter Sellers movie from the 1960’s (from whence the band Birdie Num Num got their name), in which he plays a man of South Asian descent who wanders into a party and, completely befuddled, makes comments about everything he sees there.  Now—yes, NOW—it’s also the name of a stellar entry here on this very blog.  I know; it’s an impressive title.

After a week of starting a new job and re-mixing GhostBand’s CD (more about that at some point; it’s a very interesting story), I somehow manage to have a free afternoon, so I’m taking the opportunity to do what I promised the other day, and beginning the laborious process of posting pictures from the New England trip and sharing some of the stories behind them, rather than creating one super-extendo, fifty-thousand-word behemoth of an entry.

Might as well start from the first night (although I think the whole chronological ‘thing’ is unnecessary and even somewhat boring) since this was my first time in New York, and this beautiful night seemed to set the tone for the rest of the trip.

This picture was taken at the home of our hosts, M and A, in Brooklyn.  Their home is a lovely, sparse, tasteful two-story apartment near the Green-Wood Cemetery.  They treated us like family in a million different ways, not least of which because A happens to be PolishCellist’s younger sister.  They didn’t know me from Adam before I showed up in their car and on their doorstep, but they welcomed me with open arms and instantly included me in the fold.  Both of them are engaging creative types (he’s a long-time Blue Man, musician and recording engineer, and she’s a freelance sound engineer and visual artist), so we had plenty in common to talk about.

They made us an excellent dinner of Caprese salad, grilled sausages, hot dogs, and bread.  We ate on their patio until the rest of the guests began to arrive in the early evening, when the wine flowed, a fire flickered, and PolishCellist and I played an informal cello and accordion concert or the small but substantial group.

Here’s a shot of us playing, taken by PolishCellist’s youngest sister E, who lives in Brooklyn as well.

Around ten o’clock, we decided to give the neighbors a break (although I suspect they rather enjoyed the concert) and set about roasting marshmallows for s’mores (as well as drinking more wine) and continuing the conversations.

Eventually the party moved inside and out came the cameras, because the three sisters aren’t in the same place at the same time nearly as often as they’d like to be, so when they are it’s a pretty special occasion.

From left to right are A, PolishCellist, and E.  Good genes certainly do run in their family, no?

Around two-thirty in the morning, we all went to bed.  PolishCellist and I were awake a bit later than M and A were, since we’re both night owls and our body clocks were still on Pacific Time.  She stayed upstairs and did some computer work, and I went downstairs and attempted unsuccessfully to sleep, while mentally going over all the places I wanted to see in the days to follow.  I decided to explore as many various parts of town as possible—downtown Brooklyn, the Bridge, lower Manhattan, and Central Park (including Strawberry Fields and John Lennon’s home at the Dakota) were on my agenda for the first day—but I also decided to ‘randomize’ and play things by ear, and to remain open to possibilities and suggestions from my new friends.

To be continued. . .

The City

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I don’t quite know where to start.

There have been a number of things happening recently, the biggest of which was a musical trip to New England, which included my first trip to New York City, which seems to have changed something in me.  If you’ve never been there before (or even if you have—ha ha), the scale of everything is enormous.  There are people everywhere, from everywhere.  Every place you go is crowded.  You can stand on one street corner for just a few short minutes and you may very well hear people speaking ten or fifteen different languages within that time.  Most impressive of all, however, is the scale of the architecture and infrastructure.  It’s staggeringly huge.  You can start in one part of the city, get on a subway train and ride for an hour, and when you get back up to street level, you find that the buildings are still crammed together as far as the eye can see.  Parts of San Francisco are built up densely like that, but not nearly as tall, and only in small parts of town.  New York goes on and on for miles in all directions.  Somehow it manages not to be overwhelming, though, and I actually found myself energized by the bustle.  Every street seemed to be associated with a song title, or a movie scene.  Here’s a picture from the beautiful West Village.

My goal for NYC was to see as many of the various neighborhoods as I could.  Obviously we spent the majority of our time in Brooklyn, but I had a few days to get out and explore, either on my own or with the help of one of my long-time blogging friends.  A lifelong Brooklynite, she was very familiar with the city, and she was a fantastic tour guide and host.

At some point, I’m going to want to recount the stories and pictures from the rest of the trip, but my head is still buzzing from it all and trying to make sense of everything I saw, and all of the interesting and lovely people I met, so for now you’ll have to settle for some pictures.  You can click on them to make them higher resolution.

I happened to be underneath the Brooklyn Bridge at the same time as this yacht (I think it’s a yacht; I have to confess that I don’t know much about boats, but I DO know that it’s one of the racing ones) was passing by, and another photographer and I were taking full advantage of the situation.  I love this picture, and it’s probably my favorite one from the entire trip.

From there, I walked across the bridge to lower Manhattan, all around the Financial District and to the site of Ground Zero and the new World Trade Center.  Here’s one of the new towers, in a late stage of construction.  I love pictures like this, because once the thing is built, you never get to see it ‘in progress’ ever again.  I feel lucky to have been there to see it and take this picture before it was finished.

This was a sticker I saw on a traffic signal pole in Greenwich Village near the Village Vanguard.  It may be blurry, but the message is clear.  I spent the whole trip with my camera—and indeed my entire brain—in ‘record’ mode.

After going full speed ahead for so long—and I haven’t even started writing about the Louisiana or Bay Area trips yet—I’ve found it a bit difficult to transition back into the ‘normal’ pace of life, whatever that is.  You could call this feeling the Post-Travel Blues.  Joseph Campbell might call these feelings ‘peak experiences’, which is to say that when people are operating at their highest levels of consciousness, the things they experience gain a certain amount of gravitas and significance, and settling into everyday life after times like those can be difficult.  I daresay that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would support this theory.

I think—and this is me thinking—that when you’re in the upper levels of Self-Actualization and Esteem, it’s hard to be excited about everyday things like homeostasis and excrement.  When you’re traveling, you’re pulled out of the lower realities and pitched into the higher ones, which is what makes travel so exciting.

Incidentally, I just knew that I’d have to mention excrement at some point.  I had to drag this conversation down to my level, didn’t I?  Abraham Maslow, Joseph Campbell, and excrement.  I really should have named this blog High and Low.


There’s more to come on the blogging front, and while I was coming back from the beach this weekend, I thought of a few stories from back in the day that I think will be worth your while, so stay tuned.  Don’t touch that dial or whatever.  We’ll be right back after this important commercial message, courtesy of someone I photographed in Central Park.

best pics of 2008, BFST style

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As I promised, here are my favorite pictures from this past year, in no particular order.

The landscape between Utah and Idaho is vast, and seems quintessentially American somehow.

This picture was taken outside the studio when we were mixing Andrea’s CD.  There had been a freak snowstorm overnight, and we all woke up to this beautiful scene. Amazingly, the snow was all gone by the afternoon.  We finished mixing the songs, and then I drove back to Portland and went on a great first date.  That was a good day.

Andrea had just read and been inspired by the book Blue Like Jazz, and she wanted to take a little hike around the campus of the college here in town in which the book is set. Though it has changed in the decades since the book was written, this was and still is a beautiful place to hike and explore.

This is one of my favorite locations to take pictures.  It’s an abandoned cannery town along the Columbia river. Sorry about the small size.

When Breanna and Justin and I were on tour in Reno, Justin was getting his CD mixed in Portland, and the guy would send Justin mixes via e-mail, for him either to approve or to request some small changes. After our show, he and Bre were listening to the final mixes, so I left and walked around for an hour, and took about a million pictures of the city at night.  Came back and listened for a while, and when they went to bed, our host and I stayed up talking for another hour and a half afterwards. That was my favorite day (and night) of the tour.

ViolinistKarlee, me, Breanna and Justin on our tour, after our show in Redding.  This picture just puts a smile on my face every time I see it.  Karlee is such a lil thug.

This is my car, all loaded up with instruments to go to the studio and record my parts for Andrea’s CD.  I’m always amazed at just how much stuff this car can carry, despite its diminutive size.

ChefDave, in an instantly classic pose.  I love the way the light is gleaming off the knife.  Incidentally, you owe to it yourself to eat at the Sego Lily Cafe in Bountiful, Utah, by the way, next time you’re there.  Dave’s food is phenomenal.

There are lots of abandoned military bunkers outside Port Townsend, Washington, and I could easily spend a weekend just taking pictures of them. I love the way the light interacts and contrasts from room to room.

Ah, beautiful Astoria, Oregon, seen from the highest point in town.  That’s another place that provides an almost endless supply of photographic opportunities.

This picture I didn’t take, but it’s such a classic that it warranted inclusion on the best pictures of the year.  It’s the Cinemagic theater here in Portland, when they were in transition from the movie Hancock to the Dark Knight, and this was the sign change, in progress.

I love looking back over the year in this way. Even though this was a particularly difficult, painful, and challenging year, there were certainly plenty of good times too.

Here’s to a better 2009, though.

best of 2008, BFST style

beautiful, blogging, cello, funny, love, music, pictures, Portland, recording, sad, true, Yakima No Comments »

It’s been quite a year, I have to say.  Going through and choosing entries was particularly difficult this time around.  I always enjoy looking backwards.  So much has happened this year that it had become a bit of a blur, quite frankly, and it was fun to revisit some of those experiences.  Others, however, weren’t nearly as much fun.  I could have made this entry about twice as long as it is.  There will be another separate entry for the ‘best pictures of 2008’ coming soon.

accordions, Decemberists, and EmeraldCity – This involves a night when I made a noticeable transition from fan to equal participant.

shock – This was one of the worst days of my entire life.

good news and truth – This was the end of said time.

Yakima trip, part one – This was quite possibly the worst Yakima trip ever, in which I lost a friend.

Tinkle – Tinkle is the name of a fictitious product; this entry describes a hilarious parody my friends and I made of sports drink commercials from the early 90’s.

on tour, day 3 – This was one of the best and most memorable days of my entire life.

my dinner with Andre – We read the screenplay in the play-reading group, and there are also some ruminations about why this movie meant so much to me.

‘six-six-five and one fucking half’ – This is a rock ‘n’ roll story from way back in the day.

errrr. . .hi, mom – I have to be honest; I really like this particular entry.

O, the hilarity ensues – ‘Good luck driving around with my dead, pregnant wife!’

please ban more books – The school district in the town in which I grew up turns out to be responsible for upholding a ban on a very famous book.  Glad I left that town.

litany – This was a hilarious repartee my friend and I shared.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support throughout this last year.  In case this somehow wasn’t enough for you, here’s the entry for the best entries of 2007.

Have a great new year!