The city. . . does not tell its past, but contains it like the line of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
— Italo Calvino, from INVISIBLE CITIES
Here is a foto-collage from this past weekend’s Festival of Ideas for the New City (May 4th-8th), which I hope many of you had a chance to attend! The Asian American Writers Workshop (in collaboration with the Museum of the Chinese in America) kicked it off this Saturday morning with readings from a gamut of writers (I had a chance to read a collaborative project with the terrific poet, R.A. Villanueva).
Even in the midst of finals and the onslaught of proposals and papers, I found myself happy, relaxed, and grateful this past Saturday. Why? Because! The weather finally felt like spring, there was a team of wonderful writers abounding, and most importantly, a warm audience wanted to spend their Saturday morning with us. Some were friends, some were supporters of writers, but most were just people who were curious to hear what “narrative remappings” in Chinatown meant.
After the reading, I had a chance to interview New York City-based author, Ed Lin. More about this interview, his thoughts on a changing Chinatown, and clips in an upcoming post.
A few of these images are not from the festival itself, but from a walk I took the previous day. The Sunshine Hotel, one of the last “flophouse” hotels in the Bowery, is about a ten minute walk from where I work. Ron and I had been swapping a few emails about the Bowery to help jump-start ideas for our collaborative poem (the jump-start also included a two hour walk around Chinatown, and re-reading Italo Calvino’s luminous Invisible Cities.)
There is no way that anyone should romanticize the Sunshine Hotel — inside, the ceilings of rooms are made out of chicken wire, the rooms themselves are no bigger than medium-sized office cubicles, and for much of the 20th century, it was part of what was known as NYC’s skid row — but despite the sad, hard stories that these walls might hold, it still represents a different time in the city. It is now bizarre to walk down a street that is so rapidly erasing any trace of the fact that it once provided homes for those least able to afford one.
Similar to the experience I had when I walked passed the Music Palace, when I got to 241 Bowery, what I found were remnants of a functional building boarded up (with the exception of the doorway). Next to the Sunshine Hotel stood the gleaming white panels of the New Museum. Awkwardly sandwiched between the boarded up flophouse and the museum were two young men painting a front board panel of what (I gathered) used to be a part of the Sunshine Hotel. Chalked on the black board were the streaking, stenciled words: “Steaks, Burger, Milkshakes” etc. And when I asked the painters if they knew how to buzz in, to get into the hotel, they shrugged and said, “We’re only painting this thing, we have no idea what it is.”
The rest of the fotos were taken on Saturday, late afternoon, at the Festival. I moseyed around Rivington Street (the festival was a moving exhibit, with art stalls lined up on Bowery. These photos were taken on Rivington, between Chrystie and Bowery).
Some of the things we found: functional water fountains made out of bright orange road cones, a layered train of a dress made out of plastic and trash, and a tennis net made out of construction “netting”.