Queens For A Day

Each evening when the fasting breaks, people flock to the mosque for prayers, then gather in restaurants and on corners. The cafes, which are usually full but stand empty during the days of Ramadan, suddenly fill with men smoking tobacco from water pipes and slapping one another on the back. My neighbors, men and women alike, crowd the shops as they gather food for that night's feast. Even as midnight nears, whole families are still in the streets, walking from house to house, visiting and taking visitors in.

In the morning, a little trail of date pits will mark the path of this strolling celebration, an urban sidewalk souvenir from this ancient winter ritual of examining the soul, disciplining the body and drawing tight the bonds of community. —Laura Conaway


Socrates Sculpture Park: The shape of things to come

Typical of a borough that's now in a constant state of re-creation is Socrates Sculpture Park. Once an illegal dump site along the East River, full of trash and abandoned cars, the park has in the past 13 years become a sculpture garden for everything from the monolithic to the whimsical. What a setting: the running tides, small islands and a giant city beyond. Within, Socrates Park features wind chimes and windmills, sculpture to climb on and sculptors to talk to. Amid a shower of sparks, Jason Reppert, a 25-year-old from Boston, works on a commission for the Fuller Building in Manhattan. He's one of only a handful of artists who get fellowships to burn their ambitions on the rusty tables set up near the park entrance. Short of hanging around Socrates himself, what could be more inspiring to a sculptor? "It's fantastic, to work out in the open with first-class tools, surrounded by all this," says Reppert, gesturing to the garden, river and gleaming skyline. In Queens, the old is comfortable with the new. As if to prove it, Reppert points to an abandoned station wagon in the center of the park. "It's what was here, and how it all was changed," he says. "Check it out."

Good advice. The beat-up, late '60s Oldsmobile wagon looks like a remnant from the pre-park park until you peer through its windows: Inside is a pristine, perfectly miniaturized world of gleaming bathhouses, an empty room of polished parquet floors, everything bright and new and crisp. —AC

Socrates Sculpture Park 31-34 Vernon Blvd. Take the LIE to the BQE, merge onto Astoria Blvd. N, turn left at 21st St, right onto Broadway and stay straight until Vernon Blvd. Open daily 10am-sunset. 718-956-1819.


Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum: Hide and seek

Take 21st Street north, under the Queensborough Bridge to Broadway, hang a left, and then another left at the river to 32-37 Vernon Boulevard: You've just arrived at a nondescript building, just one of many in this warehouse district, but this one houses the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, one of America's hidden troves of treasures. Step inside to the Japanese-American master's inspiring legacy of Eastern and Western traditions harmoniously joined. Twelve galleries with changing exhibitions demonstrate Noguchi's innovative work in sculpture, drawing, architecture, interior design and theater. More than 350 works are centered on a Zen garden—subtle, simple, lovely, timeless. —AC

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum 32-37 Vernon Blvd. Take the LIE to the BQE, merge onto Astoria Blvd. N, turn left at 21st St, right onto Broadway and stay straight until Vernon Blvd. 718-721-1932.


P.S. 1: The grammar of high culture

South of the Queensborough Bridge, Long Island City opens up with a sense of sky and vistas unique in this ordinarily dense and crowded borough. The stark, beautiful mixture of factories, warehouses, rail yards and the soaring jade-green Citibank Tower converges with high art and modern pop culture at P.S. 1, a huge, neo-Gothic grammar school built a century ago. Once filled with immigrant kids who later fled to Long Island and became your grandparents and parents, the building fell into disrepair and was used as a book warehouse in the '50s. By the late '70s, the deterioration was complete, but then the Museum of Contemporary Art took over, transforming it into the school you always wanted to attend. Skylights have been cut into ceilings to provide an airy environment filled with light. The young, unfailingly polite workers in the museum are dressed not in uniforms but in hip-hop bags. The art challenges you not to smile. One room has two fans installed in a wall, blowing at hurricane power; another has just a fan swinging lazily from the ceiling creating hypnotic patterns. A large elevator contains a 1962 Italian roadster. Red, buzzing light floods a stairwell; when you emerge, everything looks green for awhile. Show-and-fell is still alive at this school: There's a plastic chute that pretzels down three floors to the courtyard. Sign a waiver and you get to experience the feeling of being shot out of a cannon. Don't tell Giuliani, but even a series of pictures of a naked woman chained to a rod seems innocent and non-threatening. —AC

P.S. 1 22-25 Jackson Avenue, at 46th Avenue, in Long Island City. Take the LIRR, via Jamaica, to Hunters Point Station. By car, take the LIE to Van Dam Street (the last exit before the toll), right on Van Dam, left on Thompson, left on Jackson. 718-784-2084.

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