Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dalai Llama

East Village

Courage to tell the truth

Bolivar Arellano is a retired New York Post photographer. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was directly under the Twin Towers when one of them collapsed. To this day, he doesn't know how he survived.

When he was a photojournalist in his native Ecuador and filmed the death squads doing their dirty work, someone tipped him off and told him he was a marked man, and he was advised to leave the country immediately. To this day, he marvels that he survived.

When he was a photojournalist in Colombia, he was accused of being linked to anti-government guerrillas. He was told to leave the country immediately or be killed. To this day, he marvels that he survived.

When he was a photojournalist in Nicaragua, he was kidnapped by the Contras for three days, only to be set free without explanation. To this day, he marvels that he survived.

What this fine and gentle man and talented photojournalist couldn't survive was the greed connected to the gentrification of the East Village. His landlord, who is on a list of the 10 worst landlords in New York City, raised the rent on his modest gallery on Ninth Street by 400 percent.

Arellano survived the greatest terrorist attack in U.S. history and the senseless violence of repressive regimes. But greed has done him in, or at least his dream of owning a gallery. It closed for good this weekend.

He'll survive this unfortunate episode in his life, too. But the East Village just lost a wonderful artist and gentle soul whose exhibitions breathed life into the neighborhood.

Better look over your shoulder. You could be next.


East Village


Tompkins Square Park
East Village

Two sides of Jim "Mosaic Man" Power's mosaic wonder dog, Jessie Jane

Yo man, that's my toy.

Everything's cool.

Jim Power

Tompkins Square Park
East Village


Tompkins Square Park
East Village

Off the clock

East Village

"Beano" and human friend

Washington Square
Greenwich Village

Lost in the moment

Washington Square
Greenwich Village

Magazine vendor

East Village

One of New York's bravest

East Village

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sucker-punched by the truth

I respectfully dedicate this post to Mathew B. Brady (1823-96), the first successful photojournalist and, by extension, street photographer in the United States.

His images of the carnage wrought on the battlefields of the Civil War shocked a nation to its core. He (and his various assistants, including Alexander Gardner) gave those who saw his photographs a much-needed dose of reality -- straight up, no chaser.

People ran from the galleries in which his images were displayed, unable to comprehend the scope of what they were seeing -- unable to comprehend the scope of the bloodshed they helped bring about through inaction and apathy.

There's no room for complacency, my friends.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Walk on the wild side

Lou Reed
East Village, Manhattan

Satya's hands

East Village


Tompkins Square Park
East Village, Manhattan


East Village, Manhattan

My friend Oueni is a gentle soul from Burkina Faso, West Africa. He is passionate about art and handicrafts from his country and other nations in Africa, which he sells at WAGA, his shop at 33 St. Marks Place, between Second and Third avenues. Stop in and say hello, and while you're browsing you can enjoy watching an international soccer match (his other passion) on the telly.


East Village

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another step on the path

Richard Rohrman-sensei, right, and me

My karate adventure moved a step forward today with my promotion to ikkyu (1-kyu), the level immediately before one tests for shodan, or first-degree black belt.

As with all promotion tests at the dojo where I train, this one was unannounced. When I walked in the door, though, the presence of several black belts, some of whom I haven't seen in a while, was a tip-off. I'm sure glad I ate my breakfast this morning.

I can't begin to describe the benefits I've derived through seven years of training in karate, including more than four in the style I now study, Okinawan Goju-ryu.

The camaraderie and instruction are exceptional, and my doctors have pretty much ascribed my ability to adapt to the rigors of parathyroid cancer in large part to karate. So, you see, my very life depends upon karate, but not in the usual way.

I can't move with the grace and flexibility that I may once have had in greater measure, but to focus on just that would be to lose sight of the meaning of karate completely and hopelessly. It's much more than that.

Passing this test enables me to say that I'm still here despite medical setbacks, and that life continues and the battle we all wage with ourselves is still engaged.

Now, it's time for a nap. I'm exhausted.

Did you see it?

Anyone else happen to catch Thursday's spectacular sunset? New Jersey was made so much prettier ... and it was free for the looking.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Tompkins Square Park
East Village


Hugh and Heather (got engaged last week)
Tompkins Square Park
East Village

Michael goes to market

I took a magical and much-needed road trip Friday to Ephrata in Lancaster County, Pa.
My two dear friends and I wanted to photograph a livestock auction at the Green Dragon market, an outdoor extravaganza at which you can buy anything from cattle feed to clothing to electronic gadgetry and everything in between.

The auction turned out to be a bust. Instead of cows and steers, small animals destined to be kids' pets or 4-H projects were to go on the block. The bidding wouldn't begin until 6:30 p.m., and it was just 1:30 when we arrived at the fair. With lots of time and no plans, we strolled around and took photos of other things.

My attention was drawn to a long, low shed for Amish and Mennonite families to park their horses and buggies while shopping. Inside, there was a lone, spirited horse hitched to a black buggy.

The horse, as with nearly all buggy horses, was wearing blinders, so I approached with gentle footsteps and a soothing voice so as not to startle him. I snapped away, slowly gaining his confidence. Turning to leave, I nearly walked right into the owner. The wiry man, who was about my height, stared me right in the eye with a look of mild amusement.

I stammered out an apology, assuring the man that if I had known he was there, I would've asked his permission before photographing his rig. "Oh, don't worry," he said in a friendly voice. "The horse don't mind."

We introduced ourselves. "I'm Melvin," he said. Meanwhile, my friends had struck up a vigorous conversation with Annie, Melvin's wife.

Melvin and Annie's transportation

Melvin is 69 but can easily pass for someone far younger. Years of farmwork followed by years in carpentry and construction work had shaped him into a powerful man, but with the easy, gentle, confident manner of one who knows his own strength. As with all old-order, or Wenger, Mennonites, he wore plain dress -- unadorned linen shirt, dark trousers, black suspenders, black workboots and dark straw hat. His conversation was straightforward and simple, guileless and engaging.

I wish I could share with you a photo of Melvin and Annie, but you'll have to form one in your mind's eye. Wenger Mennonites eschew such trappings of vanity as posed photos.

Clipper the horse. He has worked up a froth by chewing on his bit. Melvin said Clipper is a retired trotter from a race track in Canada, if I remember correctly. Clipper is 4 and is, in Melvin's words, just "a fair travelin' horse." Melvin is thinking of selling him for a horse that is easier to work with.

We spent about an hour talking about horses, farm life, family life. I learned that Melvin and Annie have five children. Two sons had moved to Wisconsin to farm in the Mennonite tradition because land prices in Lancaster County were just too high. A third son was farming in upstate New York. Melvin had been a farmer but now did carpentry and construction work, common trades for Mennonite men who have left farming. Bicycle repair is another frequently encountered livelihood.

As Melvin and I chatted, my friends, one of whom is a plain-dress Quaker, found common ground with Annie through hymns, which provided background music for this wonderful encounter. Annie wants to visit Manhattan someday and has great curiosity about the ways of other people. Formal education for her and her husband stopped after the eighth grade, as is the custom for Wenger Mennonites. But their learning never stopped and their accumulated knowledge transcends what can be gleaned from mere books. They are wise, and wisdom is cultivated through living with one's eyes and ears and mind open.

My Quaker friend and fellow road-tripper Lorcan. He and Melvin and Annie share the plain-dress custom.

As far as I could learn, Melvin and Annie's major concession to modern ways is a telephone, which Annie says is a necessity these days. "You can't just drop in on the doctor anymore," she said. "You have to make an appointment over the phone."

Melvin and Annie are extremely comfortable with themselves and their beliefs, and so they are comfortable with people from outside their community. Rather than being seen as threats to their customs and way of life, my friends and I were seen as fellow children of God who have chosen a different path up the same mountain.

We had such a lovely time that the couple invited us to their home the next time we're in the area. And so it is that we'll soon find ourselves on the road to Ephrata once again.

Market day


Green Dragon market
Ephrata, Pa.


Waiting to be auctioned
Green Dragon market
Ephrata, Pa.


Mennonite evangelist
Green Dragon market
Ephrata, Pa.


Musician Louis Meevers-Scholte
Ephrata, Pa.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A keeper of the flame

Richard Rohrman-sensei
BudoKai Okinawan Goju-Ryu dojo
River Edge, N.J.
(taken with Nikon FM 35mm SLR, 50mm lens)

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Sept. 12, 1907 - March 19, 1992

Taken in front of his apartment at 409 E. 6th St.,
East Village, Manhattan

I could've eased my dad's final months,
could've soothed
his fears
that arose from awareness
of ebbing lucidity,
his mind the victim
of a capricious child
stealing a cookie here and there
from the jar

I could've bridged decades of enmity
that had settled
into an uneasy truce,
could've answered
that frantic long-distance call
one afternoon,
a cry for help
asking me
Where am I?
Why am I alone?
Why aren't you here?
Can you HELP me?
he pleads
into the answering machine
through which I screened the call

In his last days
his mind nearly gone,
wife unable to care
for his needs
or defend herself
against his blind rages,
he is put in a nursing home --
the same one where his mother died --
I remember visiting her there
as a boy of 4:
"Why is Grandma playing with a doll?"
I ask my mother
in a scene that haunts me
to this day

And now my dad,
perched on the edge
of that same fine and fragile line
and at that same way station,
in a moment of clarity
"I'm going to die here, aren't I?"

I want to visit him:
"He wouldn't even recognize you"
my mother says,
I take her word for it
and stay away

The phone call came a week later,
he died just past midnight
on his 48th wedding anniversary

I don't recall shedding many tears
at his funeral
but afterward
I pulled out the box of old home movies
safely tucked away
and forgotten
in my mother's basement,
and carefully threading the brittle film
through the projector
there he is
in his element
forever young
in far happier days
before realities put hopes to flight,
and having opened this portal
I let loose torrents of emotion
such as I've never felt

It's been 15 springs
since he's been gone
but the talks we have now
by his graveside
are among the best
we ever had

(first published on my blog on Feb. 10, 2006. It reappears here in slightly edited/revised form)

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Astor Place
East Village, Manhattan

Kat O'Sullivan is a talented artist in a variety of media. She also designs beautiful clothing. She has traveled the world, and these days parks her psychedelic bus in the East Village, where she sells the fruits of her imagination. You can see the fire of creativity burning in her eyes.

May the road rise with you, Kat.