Sunday, July 28, 2013

Open Wide

  ...from a photographer's notebook

Too yummy to leave un(photo)documented                        ©2013 Steve Ember

Confession: I love a good lox and bagel.

Just in case you just checked in from another planet, allow me to describe this deli delicacy. You start with a bagel. It might be a plain bagel, or whole wheat, or cinnamon raisin (my fave), onion, sesame, well, the choices seem endless.

Now you slice that round nugget with the hole in the middle and you pop it in a toaster, after which you smear on some cream cheese, atop both halves.

Then comes the lox.


Lox entered the language as a Yiddish version of the German word for salmon, Lachs. Lox is made by curing the salmon, whether by smoking or in brine. It can have different subtleties of taste and texture, depending on the type of salmon and, of course, the process used. But when done right, it is so-o-o yummy.

Sunday brunch for me will most likely be a nice lox and bagel. And depending on how much I’ve bought, there will usually be a yummy reprise to start the day on Monday.

Naturally, when in New York, I must enjoy a good lox and bagel. Is it better in New York? Well, isn’t everything, when one is in that “New York State of Mind?” I know, I haven’t really answered the question of absolute quality. But what I do vividly remember from one such Manhattan lox and bagel experience many years ago was, well, the experience

Cold winter day in 1995…around the corner from my hotel near Central Park was (the original) Wolf’s Delicatessen at the corner of 57th and Avenue of the Americas…looked inviting, so I grabbed a table…and a menu. Did I need a menu? Of course not.

We don' need no stinkin' menus!

Lox and bagel and a large orange juice…and a restaurant full of New York deli-ambiance. Under such conditions, one does not rush; one savors. 

Was it the best lox and bagel experience? Well, it ranked pretty high on the gustatory enjoyment scale, but what I most vividly remember was that aforementioned ambiance - and seeing comedian Henny Youngman, sitting up front in the restaurant as I was leaving. He seemed down in the dumps, lamenting the fact he didn’t have an engagement that week in Miami Beach and was stuck in a bone-chilling Manhattan winter.

But, about the photo up top...

Manhattan on a much milder day, this past June. Out and about with the cameras, exploring the Tribeca neighborhood. It had been a festive night before, and I got off to a noonish start.

It’s easy to put off breakfast when you want to explore and seek out new motifs to photograph.

But, by mid-afternoon, two things started happening, a growing realization I was running on fumes, and the rain started. Fortunately, I’d reached Canal Street and the Tribeca Bagel Shop looked like an inviting spot to have “brunch” and wait out the rain. It was.

Nothing fancy. No signs advertising free wi-fi…no oh-so-serious MacBookers looking Mac-Bookish over their high priced Macchiatos. Typical long deli counter and in the middle of the room, a long buffet/salad bar…and on the far side, a long counter with high chairs and a few tables. Oh, and what looked to be a nice selection of juices along another wall.

The nice gal who took my order told me I didn’t have to wait while the lox and bagel was prepared – just grab a seat and they’d bring it over.

This time, I ordered my lox and bagel (whole wheat) with...capers! And when the sandwich arrived, I finally remembered what I had been missing all these years as a compliment to my lox. Not those hard stingy little things that come in the tall narrow jar you can’t fit a self-respecting spoon in to get ‘em out. These were corpulent capers that added a succulent accent to some darn good lox.

As I savored my late “brunch” I caught sight of a Zorba-esque gentleman in a Tribeca Bagels tee shirt, standing beside the deli counter, obviously savoring his product. He had a great face, and I asked him if he’d mind my taking his picture (I’d already taken a photo of the second half of my lox and bagel with those scrumptious capers peeking out). He agreed, and we struck up a conversation.

He came over and sat down. I thought he was Greek; turned out he’s from Israel. I guess having a couple of cameras alongside the lox and bagel plus an equipment pack on the adjacent seat is a good enough conversation starter and he was also into cameras and electronics, so the conversation flowed.

Seems the space was once his electronics store. He got out of that business as a result of not being able to compete with the superstores and mail order establishments.

This time, I think he struck gold. I left, feeling like a regular customer of this honest, unpretentious New York neighborhood joint.  

Next time I’m anywhere near Canal Street, I’ll be back.

©2013 Steve Ember

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Escape the Washington Steam Bath (well, kinda)...

...from a photographer's notebook

"Mürren" at Art League Gallery through Aug. 4
Well, guess I had to choose something that might suggest a climatic polar opposite to the fetid steam bath the Washington, DC area has been smothering in of late as my entry for the July exhibit at the Art League Gallery.

And, loving Alpine settings as I do, it wasn't difficult to find such images. The process of choosing from the many available prints became a bit more difficult, but as I'd not submitted anything in classic black and white in a while, I thought this one, shot in the Swiss village of Mürren during a visit during the winter of 1993 might be an apt choice. Happily, the juror for the show agreed.

"Mürren" is on display as a 14 x 20 handmade  gelatin silver print on fiber stock.

The Artists Reception for the July All Media Exhibit will be this Thursday evening, July 11 at the Art League Gallery in Old Town Alexandria. The Gallery is on the first floor of the Torpedo Factory Arts Center along the Alexandria waterfront at the corner of King  and North Union Streets. Phone: 703-683-1780.

Please join us and, oh yes, chill out!

©2013 Steve Ember

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Monday, July 8, 2013

People will say we're in love...

...from a photographer's notebook

Detail from "People Will Say We're in Love" - Love Locks on the Brooklyn Bridge

What do Oklahoma and the Brooklyn Bridge have in common? 

Nothing, probably.

But if I were to rephrase the question by adding “quotes” and an exclamation mark to Oklahoma…and if you know the easily elicited romantic sensibilities of the scribe of this wee bloggie…I’ll bet you can guess what was playing on the ol' gray matter gramophone last month, as I shot this photo of these "love locks" on the Brooklyn Bridge. *

Something like perhaps “Grantin’ your wish, I carved our initials on that tree…”

Sort of an early version of clamping padlocks on a bridge girder, you think?

And, while I’m guessing many of the couples who leave these “love locks” on the Brooklyn Bridge may never have heard of Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones as Curley and Laurie in the lovely 1955 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” I’m danged if that’s going to stop me from sharing with you an exquisitely sung (and scored!) romantic duet.


©2013 Steve Ember
 * If you’d like to see the full photo in higher definition, please follow this link to its page on Foto-Community. Prints and Photo Note Cards featuring this and other images from an afternoon on the Brooklyn Bridge will soon be available. For information, please contact me at the e-mail address at right.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

A South Ferry Time Warp

...from a photographer's notebook

South Ferry Loops Station Mosaic (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

April 21, 2017 - Thought it was time for a podcast from this story, especially as, come June, this station will recede back into its "time warp" when the new station (severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy) is expected to re-open. Hope you enjoy! 

An immensely enjoyable return to New York City, after far too long an absence, was drawing to a close on a sunny late Friday afternoon.

The weather on this day, as well as the previous two, had been nothing less than superb for photography and just flat out enjoying the city. This particular afternoon had been spent taking in the South Street Seaport on the East River, followed by a late afternoon helicopter circuit over the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan and then up the Hudson, past the Midtown skyline, on to the George Washington Bridge, up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, then back downtown to the heliport.

After lingering for a while along the East River promenade, watching and photographing the choppers lifting off and arriving minutes apart and the great variety of watercraft, including sailboats, gliding by, my attention shifted to the nearby ferry terminals at the southern tip of Manhattan. The two neighboring terminals are very much of a piece with Lower Manhattan with their contrasting traditional and modern architecture. The ornate Governors Island Ferry Terminal and the soaring glass and steel of the new Staten Island Ferry Terminal, cheek by jowl at the foot of Whitehall Street in this bustling tip of Lower Manhattan.

Peter Minuit Plaza is an inviting spot for viewing the Lower Manhattan skyline, as well as a transportation nexus for ferries, buses, and subway, and that latter mode of transportation is what led to a serendipitous sentimental journey.

One of the very first subway trips I took in my youth was downtown on the (then-) IRT No.1 Broadway-Seventh Avenue local to South Ferry. The 1 train, being a local, made all the stops from Midtown so there was ample opportunity to savor all the sounds and sensations. 

South Ferry was one of those “special” stations one tends to remember, especially if he’s a train enthusiast. While most trains heading downtown continue beyond their last stop in Lower Manhattan into Brooklyn, the No.1 Local goes only as far as South Ferry. But that was where it got interesting, for unlike most modern rapid transit, where the train operator simply gets out at the front of the train and walks down the platform to the back, which then becomes the front for the return trip, South Ferry was actually a “loop” station.

The station, which entered service in 1905, was built on a tight curve, which necessitated “gap fillers,” moving metal grate platforms that rolled out from the concrete platform to service the doors of the arriving train. Announcements warned passengers to wait for the moving platforms to roll out to the arriving train.

Uptown-bound 1 train stops at the old South Ferry Loop Station, met by extended gap fillers (Courtesy Zach Summer)
Also, as South Ferry was a very old station, dating from a period when trains were shorter, its tightly curving platform accommodated only five-car trains. Thus, in more recent times, unknowing passengers in cars behind the first five were, I suppose, in for a bit of an “extended” trip as the train would continue around that reversing loop and head back uptown, assuming they had not heeded the signs up the line to board only the first five cars of a train if disembarking at South Ferry.

I was always fascinated by the unique aspects of this part of subterranean New York… trains slowly crawling into that tightly curved station (as opposed to the usual whoosh of an arriving train)…moving platform grates rolling out when they stopped…trains slowly departing into the inky darkness of the continuing tunnel, wheels screeching at the tight curvature of the tracks.

After its operator ascertains by signal that the gap fillers have retracted, the 1 train eases past the curved platform and continues around the South Ferry Loop for the uptown trip through Manhattan to the Bronx. (Courtesy Zach Summer)

The South Ferry Loops! Yes, it was plural, for the (East Side) Lexington Avenue IRT also reversed some of its trains here. The Lexington Avenue trains actually served the Bowling Green station as their farthest Downtown stop, but they nonetheless used the inner loop at South Ferry to reverse direction. And the East Side IRT did provide a Bowling Green – South Ferry Shuttle train that would service the even tighter curved inner loop platform.

So, the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue train screeched into South Ferry on the outer loop, and the East Side IRT trains used the inner loop (until 1977). Another unique aspect was that there was no interconnection for passengers, even though the IRT operated both services...

Now, the plan on this wrap-up afternoon was to head back uptown to my hotel, pick up my luggage and head up to Penn Station, to be there in plenty of time for the 9:20 PM departure of my train.

Taxis were plentiful, but there I was in the plaza in front of the Staten Island Ferry…and there beside me was the entrance to the South Ferry Subway Station, with its big tomato-red circle with the white 1 inside. Did I mention “Sentimental Journey?”

What I didn’t know at the time was that a new “South Ferry – Whitehall Street” station had opened in 2009, which eliminated the tight curvature of the older station’s platforms, allowing longer trains to service the station with all cars, as well as allowing more frequent service by No.1 trains. The new station also allowed access to the BMT Broadway line trains that served the nearby Whitehall Street station.  And the No.1 trains would reverse in the modern fashion, along the long straight platform between the tracks, running one level below the “loops.”

But that new station was badly flooded by sea water and otherwise extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. And, as restoring that new station will take a couple of years, the MTA re-commissioned and reopened the old Loop station in April 2013.

Zach Summer's photo shows the tight curvature of the platform at the old South Ferry station with gap fillers extended to allow safe boarding of this Uptown No.1 train. Thanks, Zach!

Sad to learn of the damage to New York’s first new subway station since 1989. But serendipity often accounts for some of my most memorable travel experiences, and it occasioned this “time warp” visit back to the old South Ferry Loop on the Broadway-Seventh Avenue Local. It was only a short ride up the West Side to Franklin Street in Tribeca, and from there, a short walk to my hotel, but so nice to wrap up the last day of an enjoyable stay in the Big Apple with such a nostalgic subterranean treat.

Regrets? As I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take for the luggage pick up and taxi uptown to Penn Station, and a No.1 train was arriving just as I got down to the old curving platform, I didn’t take the time to photograph the rich old ambiance. But that simply means a return to the old South Ferry Loop station moves to the top of my photo-shoot list for my very next trip to NYC. Meantime, sincere thanks to Zach Summer for allowing me to use some of his fine images to illustrate this little South Ferry re-visit. And if this narrative has whetted your interest, the encyclopedic is a great destination for those curious about the intriguing under- and above-ground world of the New York City Subway system. You can also find pictures there of the new South Ferry station before the devastation wrought by Sandy last October.

Here’s a view through the doors of my No.1 train across the platform at Chambers Street, the first transfer 
point if one wants to continue uptown on an express on the next track.                   ©2013 Steve Ember

By the way, does “South Ferry Loop” have another resonance for you? If so, I’ll bet it’s because you read the novel “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” or saw the film. If so, you’ll remember Robert Shaw’s icy-suave ex-mercenary character and his group of subway hijackers boarding the Lexington Avenue Local (Pelham 123) train at various stops along the East Side. By the way, that’s not a mistake – the Lex Ave trains are numbered 4, 5, and 6, but the (6) train they commandeered was the one leaving Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx at 1:23 PM, hence the designation “Pelham 123.”

"I'm taking your train." - Robert Shaw hijacks IRT No.6 train at 28th Street station (One doesn't mess with this guy)
At any rate, an interesting plot element was that, after receiving the ransom they’d demanded from the city for release of the train and its passenger hostages, the bad guys - after demanding green signals all the way to, yes, South Ferry - jury-rig the train’s controls to set it on its way, driverless, through the tunnels in Lower Manhattan.

Panic ensues as the passengers realize there is no operator and the door to the driver’s compartment is locked. The train is hurtling at increasing speed through the subterranean maze, with nothing but green signals ahead. An older passenger (who’s been riding the subway for years) tries to assure them that there are “stoppers” that will apply the brakes and stop a train if it runs through a red signal. But all the signals are green. A train dispatcher says, “It’s approaching South Ferry and it must be doing 70 miles an hour!” Fortunately, as the speeding train nears the South Ferry loop, we see, finally, a red signal, and the train screeches to a stop.

Oh, the bad guys? You won’t get any more from me. Rent the movie (the original one) – it’ll keep you on the edge of your longitudinal hard fiberglass subway car seat, all the way from midtown to the South Ferry Loop!

Till next time, mind the moving platform and enjoy the ride. 

©2013 Steve Ember

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