Destination: New York

Drawing Every Building in New York City

Yep. All 900,000 of them. That’s what artist James Gulliver Hancock is trying to do, and a book containing 500 of his completed drawings has just been released, All the Buildings in New York: That I’ve Drawn So Far.

The Atlantic Cities interviewed Hancock about the project. Here he is on his artistic style:

I’ve always drawn with this mix of technicality and whimsy. I think it is a great extension of my personality; a little bit of technical obsession, combined with a little bit of artistic messiness. It’s a push and pull which I think you can see in my drawings and is somehow relevant to New York, which is after all a crazy organic mess organized on a grid.

R.I.P. Chelsea Hotel

The Daily Mail reports that the iconic New York City hotel is no longer accepting new guests, and that its remaining long-term residents are “resigned to being bought out to make way for a run-of-the-mill boutique hotel” now that a new developer has taken control of the site. It’s a sad end for a notorious building. Tom Leonard looks back on the Chelsea’s more than 100 years:

Surely no other single building can lay claim to so much creativity, destruction and sheer scandal as the Chelsea Hotel in New York. For decades it was a byword for Bohemian eccentricity and hellraising excess, an imposing but squalid sanctuary for writers and artists too penniless or troublesome to live anywhere else.

Jack Kerouac wrote his Beat Generation bible On The Road there, in one drug-fuelled, three-week marathon. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there, too, training his telescope not into space but at the apartment windows opposite… From writers such as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, through the hippies and on to the nihilist punks of the 1970s and beyond, ‘the Chelsea’ has more than lived up to its understated description of itself as a ‘rest stop for rare individuals’.

(Via Sophia Dembling)

Happy Third Birthday, Restless Legs Reading Series

I was happy to find myself at New York City’s Lolita Bar last night for another installment of the Restless Legs Reading Series. As usual, it was a good evening: About 50 travel writers and readers chatted around the bar before heading downstairs to hear Tony Perrottet and Elisabeth Eaves read from their new books.

As it turns out, the reading wasn’t just another date on the Restless Legs calendar. It was the series’ third anniversary.

David Farley had been organizing informal gatherings for years, but in July 2008 he decided to make the events official. He envisioned Restless Legs as “a reading series for the wanderlust stricken” that brings “travelers, travel writers, and the people who love them together for an evening of sharing tales from the road, gossiping, and general debauchery.”

He expected a good turnout for the first event: It was mentioned in local media and on travel blogs, and he invited all his friends. Lolita Bar’s little basement was packed as Tony Perrottet and Cullen Thomas read and answered questions. Farley was pleased, but he wasn’t necessarily optimistic about future readings.

“I thought by the fourth month it’d be dwindling to a handful of people, because that’s how a lot of readings are,” he says. “But after almost three years of doing it seven to nine times a year, I’ve been really surprised that it’s been almost full capacity every time.”

What are some highlights from the last three years?

“People who’ve done things other than read,” Farley says. “Mike Barish did 10 minutes of travel-themed standup comedy. Kim Mance sang a travel article that she wrote, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. David Grann read. He’s one of my favorite writers and he’s a pretty big deal.”

We teamed up with Farley for a World Hum-themed reading in October 2008.

The readings are the focus of the gatherings, but I suspect many come as much to hang out with like-minded travelers and writers. In fact, some wind up at the bar all evening and never make it downstairs for the reading. Farley thinks that’s a little disrespectful to the readers. “But then when I think about it, I’d like to be up there sometimes, too,” he says, “so I can’t give anyone a hard time about it.”

How long will Restless Legs continue?

“Who knows?” Farley says. “There’s no termination date. I think people really like it. if I decide to end it, someone else would start something similar. If I somehow perish, someone will decide to keep it going.”

Upcoming readers will include Dan Saltzstein and Brook Wilensky-Lanford Sept. 15, and contributors to Slate’s Well-Traveled series in November.

Long may you run, Restless Legs.

Splitscreen: A Love Story

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

Mesmerizing travel video shot entirely on a Nokia mobile phone.

(Via Kottke)

Happy 200th Birthday to the Manhattan Grid

On March 22, 1811, city officials in New York certified a proposed grid plan of 11 north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets—the building blocks of modern Manhattan. Here’s the New York Times on the impact of the plan:

The grid was the great leveler. By shifting millions of cubic yards of earth and rock, it carved out modest but equal flat lots (mostly 25 by 100 feet) available for purchase. And if it fostered what de Tocqueville viewed as relentless monotony, its coordinates also enabled drivers and pedestrians to figure out where they stood, physically and metaphorically.

“This is the purpose of New York’s geometry,” wrote Roland Barthes, the 20th-century French philosopher. “That each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world.”

I agree: The grid has always made me fearless as a tourist exploring New York City. I never feel lost for more than half a block—regaining my bearings is as easy as walking to the nearest intersection.

The Times also has an interactive map of the original plan laid over today’s city streets. (Via @douglasmack)

A Mark Twain Pilgrimage

Fresh off a trip to the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson, World Hum contributor Catherine Watson visits Mark Twain’s grave in Elmira, New York—and explains how Twain had previously flown under her radar:

America’s most American writer lies in a family plot on a gentle hillside, beside his beloved wife, Livy, surrounded by the graves of their children and her relatives—all under simple, matching headstones.

The name on his marker is the one he was born with, Samuel L. Clemens. The pen name we know him by—which he once claimed to detest—gets second-billing below.

For me, these quiet graves were the end of a quest I hadn’t planned on making. I’d always been a Hemingway fan, with runner-up passions for Robert Louis Stevenson and the Bronte sisters.

But this year—the 100th anniversary of his death—I’ve been immersed in Mark Twain. I’ve been reading almost nothing but his abundant travel writing, with side trips into biographies about him, when I needed a break.

It has felt like living with the man, and his writing is so prolific and varied—and his life so preposterously colorful—that I now wonder how I could have cared about anyone else.

Paris vs. New York: The Blog

Paris vs. New York, a tally of two cities is a fun graphic blog that pairs up aspects of the two iconic spots—Quasimodo vs. King Kong, for instance, or the macaroon vs. the cupcake. I guess this is one city-to-city comparison that never gets old. (Via Kottke)

93 Years of the New York Subway, in Photos

The New York Times compliled a gorgeous slideshow that spans from 1917 to the present. (Via Kottke)

A Tourist Goes to Church in Harlem

Slate writer Jeremy Stahl set aside his discomfort “at the prospect of joining other underdressed white gawkers observing how ‘locals’ pray” and headed north of 96th St. in Manhattan on a Sunday morning. The resulting dispatch is a thought-provoking read. Here’s Stahl setting the scene at Greater Highway Deliverance Temple:

When the music started, the usher who had greeted us began dancing up and down the aisle. The congregation stood up and started to clap and sway. One tourist pantomimed the drumming and imitated the dancing in what looked like an attempt to impress two female friends. The choir performed “I Came To Praise the Lord,” and the lyrics—“I don’t know what you came to do, I came to kneel and pray”—stung almost like a collective rebuke. At one point, a church leader declared the “visitor” count for the day’s service at 147, listed the represented countries, and told us “thank God for each and every one of you”—even, I suppose, the dozing Japanese woman to my left.

When we were back on the bus, our tour guide, Sheila, asked if anyone had any questions. There was just one: “They weren’t offended?”

Travel Morality Tales

Travel Morality Tales Screen shot from commercial for DIRECTV

Parsing the hidden travel advice in two DirecTV commercials

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From Paris to New York—in 1906

Conor Friedersdorf digs up an old gem from the Atlantic’s archives: a dispatch from a native New Yorker, returning to the city after an extended stay in Paris. It’s a must-read for NYC-philes. Here’s a taste:

In a word, this returned New Yorker finds few familiar landmarks; and the few he does find seem to have lost most of their original meaning. He is as much dazed and puzzled by his surroundings as Rip Van Winkle after his twenty years’ sleep. Nobody resides, does business, dines, or drinks in the same places as before. Nobody frequents the same pleasure resorts. Nobody saunters along the same walks. It is not safe for him to make a business or social call, or to set out for a restaurant, a chop-house, a theatre, or a club, without consulting the Directory in advance; and, even so, he risks having his trouble for his pains, inasmuch as there is more than a chance that a move has been made since the Directory was issued.

After he so far recovers from the shock of his initial disenchantment, however, as to be able to take note of details, he finds that there is some balm in Gilead, after all. At the end of a month he begins to catch the spirit of New York; and at the end of six months he has come completely under its spell, and loves it, as Montaigne loved the Paris of his day, “with all its moles and warts.” The radiant white city by the Seine still appears to him at intervals, like the memory of a favorite picture or poem; but it has lost the power to disquiet him with desire. Paris is no longer a perpetual obsession,—the absolute norm by which he judges everything he sees. Indeed, it has passed so far out of his life that he is in danger of being as over-lenient in his judgments as he was at the outset over-severe.

Photos: Adventures in Airport Contraband

The New York Times Magazine offers up a selection of photos from Taryn Simon’s forthcoming photography book, “Contraband,” shot over five days at JFK. The seized items range from the predictable—pharmaceuticals, bongs, “mixed fruits”—to the truly bizarre: Cow-hoof bottle, anyone? (Via Kottke)

How to Taxi Like a New Yorker in New York City

How to Taxi Like a New Yorker in New York City iStockPhoto

Hailing a cab in the Big Apple takes technique. Riding like a local requires panache. Cab driver Layne Mosler explains.

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76-Second Travel Show: America’s Best Beach?

Sorry, California and Hawaii. Robert Reid heads to Southampton, New York to visit the current champion.

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Gawker’s Guide to New York City in the Summer

Brian Moylan offers some advice for peaceful co-existence between visitors and locals on the busy streets of New York this summer—though some of it, like the suggestion that tourists should stay strictly on the beaten path of big-time Manhattan attractions, seems more geared towards the comfort of city-dwellers than the enjoyment of newcomers.

Our own Mike Barish shared his tips for a successful holiday visit to New York this past winter.