Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sometimes we take field trips in the middle of the day...

*I’d first like to apologize for my excessive use of the word “we”, but this is a collective program and that’s kind of just how WE roll.

The day began with our Solidarity class. We discussed our reading assignment “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities” by Eve Tuck. We were asked to think about the definition of “damage-based research”, along with its various implications and alternatives. Most of the class participated and challenged their own perceptions of what it means to “help” a community by gathering different types of information about them. The homework assignment for the following solidarity class was to think about Eve Tuck’s notion of "desire-based" research, and whether or not the service centers we visited on our infamous Vision Quest are in line with what she feels is an appropriate way to go about assisting communities that we believe to be disenfranchised. Then, we briefly met for morning coffee (which is some what of a Q&A period, until we all get fully adjusted). That being said, we are starting to get into a flow, and beginning to adopt the idea of being disoriented.

Following morning coffee, we had a culture class in which we discussed the Russian community that lives in the area surrounding Brighton Beach. We were given a brief reading “The Everything Guide to Brighton Beach” which included fun lines such as “narrowly passing a man in a fake Gucci shirt and a rabbit hat hawking caviar from a foldable outdoor table” and “nightmare-inducing geriatric speedo displays” while learning truths about the history of this particular neighborhood. The class was  then asked what we knew about Russian weddings (which was not much) and we were informed of their festive traditions and elaborate, circus-like style. After this activity, we brainstormed all of the words that we could associate with culture. Some of them were: beliefs, values, food, music, literature, style, vernacular, religion, education, superstitions and conflict resolution. Our personal favorites though, were hats, swag, and facial hair. Ms. Furfey then asked to choose the words that best describe how we feel about our own cultures. Not how our families feel about them, not how we think we should feel about them, but was is currently most prevalent in our lives. I personally chose: institutions, rules/authority, relationships, interests and dynamics, which I explained further in my placebook.

THEN the real journey began. We embarked on our two-band trip to Inwood Park (Possibly the place where New York was bought for $24). After arriving there, and learning about Mr. Waldman’s past as a park ranger, we discussed the systems that were present. We learned that the area that most would refer to as “residential” was actually a desert, and the area that most would call “the grassy part?” was actually a savanna. Hm. We stood by the large body of water in the center of the park and described the various trees and birds we saw. Seagulls, (which are not really seagulls because there is no such thing as a seagull, but rather many different types of gulls, the ones that we noticed in particular were ring billed gulls – who knew?), house sparrows from Europe, Oak trees, pollution-resistant London Plain Trees, Sweet Gum Trees and Tulip Poplars. The Tulip Poplars were located right next to the “ACESS-THIS-STREAM-IN-CASE-OF-CATACLYSM” water that was trickling down from a cute little hill.

Mr. Meyers and Mr. Waldman asked us to think about whether we could ever return to the Native American way of life, without much of what we have established in modern civilization. Many of our advancements have been made through seeing the land as having an exchange value, rather than focusing on the use value. The land is valued for a number of reasons: strategic, commercial, leisure, location…etc. Currently, the city removed this land from being a commodity (which caused the trouble in the first place) to being used for leisure, which can be expected because it is not broken up into a grid and quantified as other parts of the land that are more urban. Before leaving, we had a brief history lesson on a hill, where we were advised by people that were enjoying the park to FEEL it. Not only to learn about it, which I thought was an interesting addition to think about when considering the way in which we address the trips we have taken and will continue to take this semester. (Sidenote: two of THE CONCRETE KING’S spirit guides, The Straus’, had a house on the land which is now Inwood park)

After returning to school, we had English where we discussed our opinion on the use of magic realism in the book “Forever” by Pete Hamill, as well as our feelings on the ways in which vengeance can be self-serving (while eating Raspberry icream). The book forces us to think outside of our normal “Fieldston English Book” experience, to think about bildungsroman and stories that relate to leaving home and learning about yourself through that adventure while overcoming obstacles. We then went our separate ways for the rest of the day. (We don’t care about non-city semester activities, do we? No, no we don’t.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Spirit Quest, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love City Semester

Now I’m not a superstitious person, but starting the first trip of an
experimental class with limited funding and a small number of students, in a
graveyard seemed like an omen of what was to become of our little program.
So at the ungodly hour of 9 am, we arrived at Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn
was different then any other cemetery I had ever been to. It was large, green and
covered in trees. Despite the thousands of dead people who were within a few
meters of me, I felt more like I was in a park than a cemetery. The gravestones
were artistic and interesting, and as we walked around, I was thinking about the
beauty of the place, instead of contemplating my own mortality and eventual
demise, like I usually do in cemeteries. Mr. Krakowsky, who from this point
forward will be referred to as “Krack”, because I don’t feel like typing his name
out, was our tour guide.

We first visited the grave of Ida and Isidor Straus, famous as turn-of-the-
century Macys Department Store owners and victims of a giant iceberg. At their
site, Lena and Emma presented an offering of pudding, the last meal on the
Titanic. There happened to be a dead bird right in front of the monument, which
was gross. Then we traveled to the grave of the Cuban-American singer Celia
Cruz, where Tess placed her offering, a heelless shoe (I think) she had made,
on a board with Celia’s lyrics written on them in Spanish. It was quite beautiful,
and really showed off Tess’s artistic ability. Finally we traveled to the grave of the
former mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia. Once there I preformed a breath
taking and Tony-worthy performance of what I imagined his deathbed speech
would be. After that we opened our first clue, and our journey really began.

Our first clue was entirely in Spanish, so I have absolutely no idea
what it said. Thankfully the Spanish-speaking members of the Concrete Kings
translated. We had to travel to Celia Cruz’s high school where we would get
our next clue. After some quick Googling, we decided it was quickest to take the
4 Train downtown. As we entered the station we heard a commotion. A white
man (and yes it’s important to note this) was arguing with the police, something
about him not having enough money to get on the train. Another man swiped him
onto the platform, trying to end the argument. The minute the white man made
it through the gates, he turned and started screaming at the police. He shouted
something along the lines of “I’ve never been helped by the police, and we shall
rise up under Obama and your prejudiced system will fail and you know what
else will fail? The Giants!!” He kept yelling for a good thirty seconds, until the
police threatened to kick him out of the station, at which point he went up to the
platform, and told a passing black man that “Not all us white men are bad.”

            We got on the train and went to Kingsbridge Road. We soon found the
high school and opened our next clue. Our task was to interview Celia Cruz,
which didn’t make much sense, given that she was dead. After pondering what
to do for a good ten minutes, we realized that we were supposed to embody
the spirit of Celia Cruz, using some wigs we had been giving back at Fieldston.
Bianca donned the wig, and was interviewed. I’m assuming it was a great
interview, but again I don’t speak Spanish. We had completed our first task and
were quite happy with our selves.

            Our next clue, thankfully in English, told us to go to the Upper West Side,
and find a memorial commemorating Titanic victims Isidor and Ida Straus. The
memorial was in Straus Park on 106th Street. The was a statue of a women made
of gold, with the words : “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives and in their
death they were not parted.” This was a reference to the fact that the Strauss’
chose to die together on the Titanic as opposed to only one of them escaping.
Just like the movie! We took a picture of us at the statue and decided it was time
for a Chipotle brake. As we all enjoyed our burrito bowels, we got an email from
Krak. It turned out we were supposed to make our own memorials, and not just
take a picture of ourselves. We hastily drew up memorials. I made one of the
Titanic. Lena drew one of the Twin Towers, Emma Drew a memorial for Steve
Jobs, both Bianca and Matt made ones to themselves, which I though seemed
a little bit egotistic, but as we learned the next day that was EXACTLY what we
were all supposed to do.

A Well Deserved Break 
            Once our artistic endeavors had been submitted to Krak, we went down
to Central Park looking for the Summer Stage, which we eventually found, after
meeting some cops, and petting their horses. Once there we had a great lecture
given (mostly) by Lena, our “green guide”, about the founding of the park. We
then made a “statue” from things we could find in the park, and opened our
next clue. We had to film ourselves singing a Celia Cruz song. Now we are very
talented people, it’s a requirement to be a Concrete King, but singing a song
with no practice, in a language that isn’t your native one, is quite a challenge.
We made a valiant effort, and were told by the women with a heavy Eastern
European accent, who we had asked to film us, that we “needed more practice.”
Translate: we sucked. But it was getting late, and we didn’t really want to sing
anymore, so we sent it to Krak anyway.

            Our next task was to find the place where LaGuardia was enshrined in
bronze. This task was particularly challenging, because there are two different
bronze statues of LaGuardia in Manhattan, one at LaGuardia place and one at
LaGuardia School. After debating which one to go to, we decided to just call Krak
and ask. A few minutes later we were on a bus to LaGuardia Place. Sadly, during

the bus ride Lena had to leave us, returning to school to rehearse a play. We
said our tearful goodbyes and continued on our journey.

            We disembarked the bus at Union Square and headed west towards
LaGuardia Place. Along the way we met a ridiculously cute dog and stopped
to play with him. Unfortunately the dog “piddled” on Emma’s leg. We continued
onward until we reached LaGuardia’s place. There we waited for at least half
an hour for Krak to send us his next clue. When it arrived we found we were
told to interview a stranger and ask how many places he or she could think of
named after LaGuardia. We found a woman and I think she named about three.
After the interview we decided not to wait another half an hour for Krak to send
us the our next clue, we just headed to our next destination, the Henry Street

            A nurse was working with a poor family on the lower East Side, when
a little girl ran into her house grabbed the nurse;s dress and said “Mom, baby,
blood.” The girl’s mother had been giving birth, but the doctor had left when he
realized that the mother wouldn’t be able to pay him. This inspired the nurse,
named Lillian Wald to start the Henry Street settlement. A rich benefactor
named Jacob Schiff provided the money, and the rest is history. The settlement
provided housing, medical care, visiting nurse service, and was actually the first
organization that hired nurses to work at schools. Now a days the organization
provides free legal medical and financial services, college counseling, day care
programs, summer camps, and art programs. They service over 50,000 people a
year, and are trying to expand.

            As our day came to end, and we traveled home disbanding one by one,
with each stop our numbers thinned until I was alone. I took a moment to reflect
upon my day, and I realized that even if City Semester started in a graveyard,
it has a long life ahead of it, and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Concrete Kings 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vision Quest, Starz Style

After the building anticipation around the enigmatic Vision Quest, we finally arrived at Woodlawn Cemetery to begin what would be an exhausting, fulfilling and exciting two days. Now, I have all these artsy, detailed descriptions of settings in my placebook, but I feel that it is a little much to include all of them, so I will just include brief snippets. Sorry, Mr. Drybala.

After taking a group picture right past the entrance of Woodlawn Cemetery, each group went their separate way. Led by our medium, the wonderful Andy Meyers, we trekked through the surprisingly vast sprawl of grass, trees and graves that is Woodlawn Cemetery. The cemetery was a city within a city, even equipped with avenues. As we walked further into the cemetery, the grave markers became more ostentatious. There were neighborhoods within the cemetery, and it was very clear what class each area was. The cemetery, though adjacent to a busy street, seems peaceful and quiet and perfect for finding some solitude, exactly what the people there will be doing for a long time. It even smelled tranquil, fresh with the dewey smell of recent rain.

The walk from one end to the other took north of twenty minutes and we were expecting Robert Moses' grand mausoleum at the end of the journey. However, we were confused when we reached his grave, a modest marker among many others, his body stuffed into a granite wall behind a building at the back of the graveyard. Our group speculated on why he chose this as his burial ground; we came up with an idea: that he felt truly misunderstood in his lifetime and did not want his legacy to be one of opulence, but instead one of modesty and public servitude, despite his egocentric nature. Bessy and Kate, rivaling Robert Moses' architectural prowess,  left him a splendid replica of the Triboro Bridge.

Our next visit was to George M. Cohan's grave. His mausoleum was definitely grand, fitting for a grand entertainer and a true symbol of New York. I performed, with assistance from Bessy and Kate, some of Mr. Cohan's greatest hits, including "Yankee Doodle Boy", "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "You're a Grand Ol' Flag". Though I did not do Mr. Cohan any justice, I do believe he appreciated the thought; they tell you it's the thought that counts, right?

Our third and final visit in Woodlawn Cemetery was by far the most impressive: the Belmonts' mausoleum. It resembled a small church, with intricate, Christian-themed carvings framing the outside. There were two gothic, dark mahogany doors, as if people were walking in and out daily. The Belmonts' had some Jewish blood, so there was an obvious denial of their roots. Jeremy and Charlie left them food offerings, specifically Alva. The food included corn bread, brie and challah. Jeremy and Charlie didn't let the Belmonts' get away with throwing away Judaism. Loud and proud!

We received a clue that led us to a monument of Eleanor Roosevelt in Riverside Park. As we walked from the cemetery to the 4 train, we noticed we were walking through the underpass the Warriors began their journey under. We couldn't help feeling like the best gang in the world, with our matching t-shirts (minus Jeremy, he was shunned for a little due to this egregious and inconsiderate mishap) and early morning pep and vim. After a long, but successful, subway journey, we arrived at 72nd Street and found our girl El at the entrance to the park on 72nd and Riverside. 72nd Street was bursting with dogwalkers, trucks unloading merchandise and cars flitting in and out of the avenue. Grand apartment buildings line the streets, and as our Green Guide (plus Ruby) pointed out, a man is wasting water hosing down the sidewalk, pushing trash from outside one apartment building to another. In Riverside Park, a dogwalker was having trouble with four dogs, as two of them could not seem to get along. Again, like the cemetery, the peacefulness of the park is tested by the rush of cars right beside it.

After sending Andy the quote under the statue to prove we had made it, our next clue led us to the Museum of Natural History, and more specifically, the Teddy Roosevelt Monument. We walked up Broadway, weaving through the mix of jogging housewives decked out in Lulu Lemon apparel and trying desperately to keep up with their dogs, and the occasional hobo. Speed walking and jay walking like true New Yorkers, we made it to the monument. This is when our group experienced a little acrimony. While sitting outside of the Museum below Teddy's imposing figure, surrounded by a flock of pigeons, we struggled with our next clue: Name two architects who were involved both in Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. We also began to dispute a lunch spot and how much time can be afforded to lunch. Once we finally figured out our clue, we headed towards the subway with our sights set on Sheep's Meadow. I will skip the food debacle. You can ask us about it in person, there are differing viewpoints and I feel I may have a bias.

Zabars was our choice (or not) for lunch and after some peeing and paninis, we hopped back on the subway and got off at Columbus Circle. Walking through the park, Charlie began to explain to us the different types of "environments": "sublime", "picturesque", etc. We kept our eyes out for each type as we traipsed through the park, looking for Sheep's Meadow. After some initial confusion as to our directions (I swear, Andy, I'm not the only one...even Google Maps was confused. Or at least Kate.) we finally came across the Meadow of Sheep. Our next clue gave us some trouble, as Bessy and Kate had some misunderstandings on how to read our key (or really, how to read the English language...). We ended up with a clue that said George CTITE and that was quite confusing for us. However, after the misunderstanding was cleared up, we realized it was George Cohan Statue and, with my expansive knowledge of everything George Cohan, we set off for Times Square, opting for walking instead of channeling our inner Warriors and braving the subway again.

The George M Cohan challenged was maybe the most interesting. We were to get a complete stranger to sing "Give My Regards to Broadway" in front of the George M. Cohan statue on 46th and Seventh Avenue. After an unsuccessful attempt to get policemen to sing with us ("Do you really expect men in uniform to do that?" was their response) we found a nice man, obviously on his way to an audition (he was sporting a messenger bag and had frosted tips, sorry to perpetuate stereotypes) who was actually more enthusiastic than we were. He even prompted a kick line and really brought the performance to a whole new level.

Then technological chaos ensued. Long story short, we received videos that were not very functional, pdf's that contained gibberish and by the time we finally figured it all out and knew we were to be headed to Washington Square Park, it was time for me to go back to school for play rehearsal. I heard the last task and the visit to the organization was lovely, even though the group was apparently put to work mailing letters.

The second day started off, for me, quite interestingly. After being driven to 72nd Street by my mother, I missed the 2 train heading downtown because there were too many people in it. I then got off at the wrong stop and my sense of direction was tested. Though I did make my way to City Hall, I discovered, thanks to Andy, that my inability to distinguish left from right is a form of dyslexia. At least I have a reason to say now when people make fun of me. Once the whole group was assembled, we headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Today was much nippier than yesterday. I didn't get the memo and my hands turned bright red. However, the Brooklyn Bridge was splendid, framed by the morning sun creeping up from behind the clouds. It smelled and felt like winter, cold and clear. The sheer size of the Brooklyn Bridge was impressive. The latticework leading up to the arches served as a drumroll, fueling our anticipation for the upcoming piece of architectural beauty. The bridge, though somewhat weathered, seems at once brand new and thousands of years old. It contains history and bikers and hipsters and cold students and cars and birds.

After some placebooking (it has officially become a verb, like Facebooking and Googling), we headed off in our separate directions, this time with our mediums (Mr. Meyers and Mr. Waldman) guiding us and imparting on us his infinite wisdom of New York City. We walked through Battery Park to Castle Clinton, but not before stopping at a monument to 9/11. The monument, formerly a piece of artwork between the two towers, is a once spherical hunk of metal that survived, despite some aesthetic damage, through the bombing. It is a powerful reminder of the resilience we have as New Yorkers and an indicator that although times were tough, we knew we would pull through. Castle Clinton was home to a fiery debate among the Starz, boys against girls. The boys were on Eleanor Roosevelt's side, against Robert Moses building a bridge through Brooklyn Heights, decimating Castle Clinton and the once great aquarium it housed. The girls were on Robert Moses' side. I think the boys won. It is clear that in the long run, a tunnel, which was eventually what was built, would actually save money and that it would not be worth destroying a historical landmark and impinging on the views of the area.

From Castle Clinton, we trekked into that foreign land called Brooklyn, to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The Promenade overlooks the water and has a splendid view of Lower Manhattan, but is also plagued with the incessant noise of the BQE under it. We split up on the Promenade and asked locals about their thoughts on the BQE and the promenade, and about that nefarious Robert Moses. Though one woman asked Ruby and I, "Which Robert Moses?" most people were very helpful in understanding the sentiment of the locals to both the BQE and the Promenade. Although the BQE can be annoying, the Promenade was definitely a good payoff. Locals use it all the time and it is perfect for walking, running, dogwalking, taking children and just looking at the view.

Our Brooklyn adventure continued when we walked into what can only be described as your typical Brooklyn diner. The owner, a first generation immigrant from _______ was in pure form, Brooklyn. He ordered for us, saying, "Black and white cookie, good for the teeth," and though nearing eighty, was spritely, waddling about, joking and pointing. He is Woody Allen and every wonderfully accurate stereotype of a Brooklyner. I must say, however, that the hot chocolate was not the best; it was clearly Swiss Miss and I was expecting a little more from the reincarnation of my grandfather.

On the streets of Brooklyn Heights, cars are limited and it almost feels as though you have been transported back 50 years. The sound in the neighborhood is hushed, the buildings have remained. There is no trace of steel or the harsh, industrialized nature of Manhattan. Brownstones and soft grays of apartment buildings only.

Our final stop, Coney Island, required a good amount of subway travel, but since we were so effective at channeling the Warriors, it was no trouble for us. We arrived at our mecca, Coney Island. The welcome was not warm. Coney Island was, for a lack of a less pointed word, desolate. The amusement park was closed, buildings empty and very few passersby. It was eerily quiet and seemed almost faded, like a dated fairytale. The ocean bursts out from behind the amusement park. The sky is completely clear and expansive, merging with the ocean into a never-ending page of blue.

The group, again united, entered Coney Island USA and we were taught about the history and significance of Coney Island, by both someone who grew up there and someone who works to restore it. We explored some artifacts from Coney Island's beginnings and headed to the Russian restaurant, where we would have our victory meal. It was four courses and very, very Russian, whatever that means. We were tired, as I am now, and the journey home was a long one, but one well worth it. The Vision Quest was over, but our knowledge of New York was already expanding rapidly by the minute, and I visited places I had never been to before, such as Coney Island. I was on subway lines I had never been on. I was on bridges I had never been on. And just from this smattering of New York City sites, it had become even clearer how little I really know about New York City and how much more there is to learn.

Starz Out.

Times Square looming before us. 

The view of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. 

Kate enjoying some Coney Island carney culture. 

Ruby being artsy on the boardwalk. 

Ruby being artsy on the boardwalk part two. 

The newspapers we helped mail at the Catholic Worker Movement. 

The all-powerful Brooklyn Bridge. 

Some Starz enjoying Castle Clinton. 

City Semester... The Shadow's Experience

From Woodlawn cemetery to Coney Island, City Semester students got a taste of New York City. The two day vision quests began this week and started off at the Woodlawn cemetery where tribes split up and presented the offerings we've been working on this week. After getting lost for about twenty minutes in the immense cemetery, everyone in The Shadows tribe gave their very thoughtful and unique offers to our spirit gods: Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Vito Marcantonio and Carrie Chapman Catt.  Some of the offerings in my tribe included a performance of speeches, a collage commemorating a jazz legend and a showcase of food that represented three cultures in East Harlem.  When the offerings were done the tribe received our first clue, a slip of paper with the numbers 125. That told us we had to take the first subway ride of the day to 125th street, not knowing exactly what we would be doing there.

At 125th street the first clue of the day was received and told us to find a place where we could learn all about jazz.  In the video, our music in the city teacher Mr. Christensen played a tune on his saxophone and we had to figure out whose song he was playing and photograph ourselves by their display at the location.  After some discussion and research on our handy smart phones, we found The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Inside we learned more about Miles Davis and the artist of that tune, Duke Ellington! The pic of our tribe was sent over and clue #2 was received. That clue led us to the west side of Harlem at Minton's Playhouse. This location was a famous jazz club where all the greats performed. After walking up and down Harlem, the group was not happy to hear clue #3 which sent us back to East Harlem to the corner of 116th street and Lexington avenue where we had to record members of the tribe reciting a speech in the style of congressman Vito Marcantonio. While it seems like a simple task, our spirit guide Ms. Banks was not satisfied with the first video we sent and we had to redo it with more "passion and Vito." After take two, Ms. Banks approved and gave us the fourth clue sending us to Central Park.

The Shadows hopped back on the subway to 77th street and walked over to the park. At the park there were two tasks. We had to find the statue of William Shakespeare and also complete the green guide's task which was finding four different objects that represented different parts of the city in Central Park. After walking through bushes, around trees and searching underneath park benches the four objects were found. We could now go to our meeting for the day at 43rd street. We were on 66th street and decided a long walk through the city would be appropriate. The walk wasn't too bad, but by that time the tribe was quite exhausted. We walked in mostly silence the entire way there, which was different for The Shadow's because we had been quite chatty the entire day. Before our meeting we sat in Bryant Park till it was time to go and generated questions to ask while some members went off to use the bathroom after holding it in for what seemed like forever. The group gathered again we went off to our meeting at The League of Women Voters of The City of New York. There we met with Miriam Adelman and had a conversation about the League, its history and significance. The talk was very informative and it marked the end of day 1.

Wednesday morning when the class split back into tribes we were with our spirit guide. The first task of the day was right by City Hall Park, on the corner of Warren St. and Broadway we got a general sense of where our spirit god Vito Marcantonio died on a morning like that one. A clue given to us by the medium then led us to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the east village. There we had Erika read aloud the Puerto Rican Obituary written by Pedro Pietri one of the founders of the Nuyorican. The next clue led the tribe to the Brooklyn Museum where we would visit an exhibit by Judy Chicago. "The Dinner Party" was a representation of feminists in world history throughout three different eras in time. The exhibit shows three very long tables that form a triangle and on the tables are placements for important feminists in history. Our task led us to Susan B. Anthony's placement that had a plate in her memory and a runner with her name sewn in a crazy amount of detail. We could then read about other women who had similar roles in history that related to her. The exhibit was very special and I think it was a favorite among all the Shadows. After looking at it we took time to reflect and write down any thoughts on it in our moleskines. That was the last task for the day, so The Shadows hopped on yet another train and figured out the route to get us to Coney Island where we'd end the day with our peers.

                                                          At the Nuyorican Poets Cafe

                    Tashi & Sam viewing "The Dinner Party" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum!

Dale Squad's Vision Quest Experience

For our two day vision quest, we were led by the spirits of Herman Melville, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Joseph Pulitzer. In their own way, they all inspired us to find different places, experience different things, and learn more about the city. Throughout our 2 days of travel we stopped at 10 places, took 8 different subway lines, and visited 3 boroughs. Our journey is chronicled below:

Stop 1: Woodlawn Cemetery.
Upon arrival we were struck with the sheer beauty and grandeur of the cemetery. As Ms. Furfey said, "it's so beautiful and the trees are mad old school". The part about the trees is quite significant because there are so many different species of them in this sacred place. We then visited the gravestones of our three spirit guides, leaving some sort of commemoration of their lives and their work at each. First we saw Melville's gravestone which is a humble memorial with a scroll carved and ivy carved into it, most likely because of his writings and his connection to transcendentalism. Here we presented the food that we made for him,  a tuna sandwich and apples and honey (the explanation is too long for this blog post). On our way to Pulitzer's grave we picked up a Coca-Cola can that was on the grass, Preservation! Yay! At Pulitzer's grave, which seemed more like a memorial because it had a large stone structure that had two benches carved into it and a sculpture of a man holding a basket, Jennie presented her drawing of the Columbia School of Journalism and Hannah told a story about his life and his legacy. This was a particularly moving moment for us because the thoughts expressed in both the drawing and the story were deep and insightful, enough so that Pulitzer's thanks were conveyed through our medium to us. Our final stop in Woodlawn was the grave of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & family. After getting lost for a little while, the sight of the grave was a beautiful, yet sorrowful one. Mourning such a great mind is always tough, but a small play about two girls running for PAC at Fieldston lifted our spirits. We then received our first clue, to find the "dead man's park" without crossing the river (Bronx River).
Our food presentation at Melville's grave

Stop 2: Franz Siegel Park
Franz Siegel Park was a beautiful park located just off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. We didn't spend a lot of time there but while we were there we felt enthralled by the park and its beauty. From its top you could see all of the Bronx around you, including Yankee Stadium, which I passed on the 4 train for the first time not going to a game. One thing that we saw that I didn't like was the amount of heavy squirrels we saw. Now this isn't a commentary on obesity rate in America but rather the fact that squirrels were coming out of hibernation far too early, made clear by the fact that they were incredibly heavy. This is a direct result of the crazy weather, which we in the Nature in the City class are not a fan of. After taking a picture in front of the 'Franz Siegel Park' sign we received our next clue and figured out that we should be on our way to the Pulitzer Midtown.
Franz Siegel Park

Stop 3: Pulitzer Fountain
After a lengthy walk along Central Park South from the Columbus Circle station to the fountain we arrived to see a beautiful, yet inactive fountain. One thing that we did see though, was that the bowl that would usually be filled with water was filled with lit Christmas trees, a pleasant surprise. On top of the fountain is a statue of a woman holding a basket of fruits and on the sides are rams heads carved out of stone. The Fountain is surrounded in all sides by signs of wealth and luxury: The Plaza Hotel, The Apple Store, Bergdorf Goodmans and Central Park. This is truly a testament to Pulitzer's success and massive legacy. Being near Central Park, Jazzy thought it would be fitting that we do our Green Guide Adventure, so we walked the grueling 2 blocks, dodging the droppings from the infamous herd of birds on the stoplight on 59th and 5th and the often crazy horses, one of which seemed to be rabid, to get to Central Park.

Stop 4: Green Guide Adventure in Central Park
We ventured out to the bank of the 59th Street Pond, taking pictures along the way of people enjoying the park on an uncharacteristically warm day. We captured birds flying around the pond, certain plants and weeds in the pond that are there to make the habitat more like the natural one of the animals living there, the sounds of birds chirping, and other things that we thought represented the purpose of the park and its use today. After doing this we were given our 3rd clue, an incredibly challenging one having to do with the Scarlet Letter and Herman Melville's birthplace. After deliberating for quite some time and receiving a warning that the terrifying baseball furies were after us, we hopped on the F train were on our way to 6 Pearl Street (get it Pearl, like from Scarlet Letter) to complete our next task.

Stop 5: Melville's Birthplace
After a wit-challenging wait for the R train we finally boarded it and arrived at 6 Pearl street to receive yet another daunting challenge, to return one of Melville's most culturally recognized yet misrepresented characters back to its place of origin. Jennie described this task as "the most frustrating of the day". While the rest of the group was trying to sort out the madness that was this clue, I took some time to examine the surroundings of 6 Pearl Street, which is now the site of New York Unearthed, a New York City Museum. To the South was the water which was beautiful but also brought with it wind and cold that made our time down there a little bit uncomfortable. In front of 6 Pearl Street was an old building made of red brick that was the site of the birth of the first American Saint. In front of another building near it was a very nice sculpture. After minutes of deliberation we made the connection between one of Melville's characters, Starbuck, and the Starbucks card that we had been given in the box the previous day. While this was a sneaky little trick that Drybala and Ms. Furfey pulled on us, we were happy to get into a warm building to enjoy some warm coffee and some tasty treats. With the time left that we had before the interview at CCBA we decided to roam Chinatown for some time, visiting Aji Ichiban, a dumpling place that sold 5 dumplings for $1.25 (it got a B on the Health Inspection but the dumplings were so good that it was worth it), and ViVi Bubble Tea so Jennie could finally curb her craving for some Tazo bubble tea.
Casually strolling down Mott St.

Stop 6: Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association
At CCBA, we had an interview with Gary Tai, one of the people who worked for the Association, which refers to itself as the "city hall of Chinatown". Gary gave us a background on the history of Chinese immigrants in New York City and why an organization such as CCBA was necessary for these people's survival. He also told us about what the CCBA does now, which is to help new Chinese immigrants become acclimated to American society and offer them educational services. This final stop concluded our Day 1 travels. We went home tired, full, but also ready for another day of New York City adventure.
Mr. Gary Tai, educating us on the ins and outs of the CCBA

Stop 7: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Street Sign
After coming off the Brooklyn Bridge cold and a bit rattled by the constant flow of bikers going in the opposite direction, we quickly finished our first task, which was to find out what was "revolutionary" (notice the quotes) about the New York World Building. We made the conclusion that this was where Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe published The Revolution, a newsletter advocating women's rights and a change in government. We quickly hopped into Starbucks, where we met a Fieldston class of '94 alum who was dumbfounded yet intrigued that we weren't in school, and then made our way to Orange street in Brooklyn, where Harriet Beecher Stowe's brother, Henry Ward Beecher was the minister of the Plymouth Church for the Pilgrims.

Stop 8: Plymouth Church For the Pilgrims
After getting off the train we were in what felt like a different world. Brooklyn Heights seemed to be much more laid back, with small shops ruling the area rather than the hustle and bustle of Wall Street traders and City Hall members. We crossed over Pineapple street and turned on Orange street right before we got to Cranberry street, in what we like to call Fruit City. Here we had to make the connection between Walt Whitman (who had an apartment complex just 2 blocks away named after him) and the church. Whitman, along with many other famous anti-slavery leaders during the time such as Abraham Lincoln, worshipped at the church. Following this, we connected Whitman to Lincoln by reading O' Captain My Captain, written by Whitman about Lincoln. This led us to our next destination, the Grand Army Plaza just outside of Prospect Park, commemorating the efforts of the men who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Stop 9: Grand Army Plaza and Cheryl's Global Food
Upon arriving at Grand Army Plaza we were all struck with the sheer grace and beauty of the area. There was a large monument that looked like the one in Washington Square Park but had statues of different soldiers on it, representing the different groups that fought in the civil war for the union, from slaves to farmers. We then each posed as one of the statues and our picture was taken, except we were quick in our taking of the picture because there was a crazy man walking around near us screaming about something or other and this was disconcerting to say the least. We then realized that we had an hour and a half to kill and were in one of the best spots in the city, one where the culture is so different from that of where we all come from, that we thought we would experience it first hand. So we found Cheryl's global food, just 2 blocks away from Grand Army Plaza and had ourselves an incredible brunch. We each had something different and we all enjoyed it very much. We were then took a long walk through Prospect Park (because we still had time to kill) to get to the Q train station to be on our way to our final destination, Coney Island.

Our great meal at Cheryl's

Monday, January 23, 2012

Re-Orientation, T-Shirts and Concussions

Today was a rather momentous occasion, our first Monday of City Semester. The day for me started off with a bang-math class! While I was thoroughly enjoying myself learning the wonders of polar coordinates, my other classmates were enjoying their frees (or arts/ other activities...). After math, I journeyed to the 'clubhouse' for our morning coffee and brief re-orientation (because we had been sufficiently de-oriented during the first week) where I enjoyed a nice cup of hot chocolate. It was shaping up to be a good day. 

We remained in the clubhouse for an interesting ethics presentation where we shared our personal objects and descriptions of New York City. We then broke up into groups to illustrate how all of our objects connected. The half-finished products can be seen below!

Next came an interdisciplinary class combining history and science in the city. We learned about the politics of the grid systems and how the system New York chose reflected their hope for the future of the City. The original plan consisted of about 150 streets going from east to west, with 12 avenues from north to south. The aim was to have easy access to the ports and promote the growth of commerce. Howie then educated us on the topography of the city, the animals that it and some interesting Civil War trivia! 

After completing a list of plants and animals in New York, we split up into our tribes in preparation for our two day quest. My fellow Starz and I journeyed to the depths of the Fieldston school to the print room. After about fifteen minutes of blood, sweat and tears our City Semestarz t-shirt was born. 

Switch gears to a double period language class, my chinese teacher gave us a fantastic surprise, we were to be having mini-quizzes (小 小考 to you chinese students out there) every single class! Oh joy! The rest of chinese class was spent discussing Jacob Koffler's concussion, Katy Perry, Rihanna and High School Musical. 

Alas, our first Monday was coming to a close. I found myself standing in the clubhouse once again, wondering how the day had passed so quickly (I wasn't really wondering that, it just seemed like a good thing to say). The school day officially ended with Bessy and I listening to some tunes in the clubhouse (we were shortly joined by Mr. Meyers, or A-dizzle, as I like to call him) and working on our offering for the one and only Robert Moses (the final product is seen below). 

Fellow City Semester students, I would like to leave you today with a final remark. Good luck on your respective journey's tomorrow.  Please don't be intimidated by the City Semestarz prestige and skill, it will only make you more nervous. I know it will be a long and hard journey, but I am sure that all of your fairly capable tribes will make it through unscathed. 

 The half-finished drawings from ethics class!
The City Semestarz beautiful project (props to myself and Bessy... but mostly Bessy) 

Good luck tomorrow, 
Kate Hirsch 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Miles, Miles, Miles

Friday was a pretty relaxed and laid-back day. We all started our first day of arts. We went to either film, theater, or photography. My art for this semester is photography and it started off pretty well. We got our first assignment which is to create a photo journalism kind of video with voiceovers (like the kind of videos in the New York Times). The photographers in each of the tribes will be gathering photos for this assignment during our "missions" on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. Before we could get started on that assignment, we were sent of to snap photos around the school, create a slideshow movie on iMovie, and then do a voiceover for practice. I don't think any of us finished in class but I feel like everyone gets the idea of what we have to do next week. Oh yeah, before I forget, we all got to go to our normal advisories which was super nice! :D

After everyone we had our math and free periods, we enjoyed a very spoiling pizza lunch...but their were OPTIONS this time. Usually at school when they say that there's gonna be pizza (legit pizza, not pizza friday) the only option is plain. But, that day, we had plain, sausage, pepperoni, and chicken...WHAAAT?! There was even salad for the people that don't even eat pizza aka Lena. During lunch, we got a special surprise: boxes that made our tribe missions even more confusing and disoriented! Joy! I don't know if any of the other tribes had things inside of their boxes that made them go "huh?" but I know for sure that when I looked inside of Dale Squad's, my tribe's, box and saw The Scarlet Letter, I definitely said "huh?" and heard the sound that plays whenever a fight is about to happen in Kill Bill. Hopefully, everything will have deeper meaning to us when we get more research done.

Lastly, we had our first Music in the City class. The first half of class we spoke mainly about jazz and tried to decipher it by listening to "So What" by Miles Davis and then to Mr. Christensen and our own Bessie doing a little improv to that song. Personally, I loved it because I'm a jazz freak! The second half, we tried answering the questions basically asking: why was (and why is) so much music drawn out of New York and why did so many musicians come to New York to perform and record? We couldn't find a concrete answer but we were definitely able to find many key reasons. And, once again, we ended our day with more question marks floating in the air than the day before! -_-''
Definition of the day in 16 seconds: Click this please!

Here are some pictures Lena took from the Music Class:

The most incredible photo in the world!
I commend you, Lena!

Alright, I know I wasn't assigned to be a photographer but I had photography that day! So here are some pictures that Hannah and I took for the class:

(Hannah is that figure in beige in the upper left)

A view of the quad from one of the windows in the 500's

Jeremy and I leaving the middle school town meeting magic show!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dis-Orientation Continues: Maybe Even More Confused?

Before I begin the post, I must apologize for anything I will precede to write that may come off as bias. I must admit, I do have quite a prejudice against the other tribes and in favor of The City Semestarz (considering it is quite clear who the best tribe and the leader of the streets is). I may now continue.

The day began for me with a wonderful sleep in until 8:40. Sorry for all of you who were in Math. Then, Kate, Jeremy, Jennie, Charlie, Jacob H. and I began our Physics Independent Study during Assembly and Funny Time. Although I never thought Physics could be remotely interesting, Mr. Wearn found a way to tie Physics into the theme of City Semester, as we studied the forces and physical aspects of bridges and given an option to present a timeline of all the main bridges built in Manhattan.

After that, the second day of our tribal wars began. That's when things heated up. Each tribe was asked to present their rap, logo and costume. There were three groups that gave it a nice shot, but in the end were beaten out by the surprising, superb and stupendous City Semestarz. The Concrete Kings did have a very artistic logo and quite an intimidating presentation (their group rap included tiger claws at the end and some hissing), and Shadows and Dale Squad both kept it simple with catchy and brief raps. Shadows also had quite an impressive graffiti logo that was most definitely not computer generated. However, I think the clear winner of the raps was the City Semestarz. Not to float my boat or anything, but after my tribe laid down a wonderful beat, I delivered a City Semestarz original rap that left both the teachers and the other tribes in awe. However, I commend each and every group on their performances.

Danny and The Shadows introducing their logo. 

J-Hoch deep in his rap 

Following the introductions of the tribes, we actually got down to work. We were introduced to our spirit guides. Now, this may seem like some voodoo magic and that's probably because it is, especially with the help of the Voodoo Doctor, Ms. Banks. Each tribe was assigned three people important in the history of New York to research, and, on Tuesday, we will begin our two day Vision Quest across the city at Woodlawn Cemetary, where we will bring offerings of different sorts to the graves of our spirit guides. My group was assigned to George M. Cohan, Alva and August Belmont and Robert Moses. Each group must create one offering for each of their spirit guides. There are three types of offerings: a theatrical offering, where the group uses song, dance or acting as a representation of something from the spirit guide's life, a visual representation of the spirit guide's life also incorporating the words of the spirit guide, and bring a food that represents some aspect of the spirit guide. Now you are definitely thinking this is some sort of voodoo.

We began our research on our spirit guides, with an incentive in place. The first group to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon successfully with their three spirit guides would get first choice on the Moleskine's purchased for the group. The City Semestarz, being the stars we are, completed the task in record time (well actually, we created the record) and connected our three guides with just one extra person, August Belmont's son, August Belmont Jr. Shout out to Bessy especially, she had a major breakthrough that led to our success. The Starz, as I call us for short, were very pleased with their Moleskines.

The next big group meeting was our first Culture Class, led by Ms. Furfey, 程老师 and 伍老师. In the vein of spirit guides and offerings, we discussed how different cultures, specifically Mexico and China, give offerings to their ancestors and the recently deceased. A common theme between Mexico and China was the celebration of the person's life rather than the mourning of their death, for death is seen in both cultures as merely passing into the afterlife, or even in China, as a form of rebirth. We then broke up into our specific languages and the day came to a close.


Jacob "Moleskine" Koffler

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First Day! Can You Dig It (the disorientation or the kwaaaa?!)

The day started off with a little overview of what our time together will entail, overall-Mr. Meyers suggests we "Dis-Orient" ourselves, for there was(perhaps, still is) some orienting to be done. Turning the focus on the science we will study in the city Mr. Waldman brought up a few maps on the board. Giving a visual of where we are, he has us identify our homes orientation in relationship to its neighborhood, neighboring neighborhoods, the region it is in with boarders recognized by the city, the city in relation to the rest of New York state, and where New York state is in relation to the world. Going back to our where we were oriented at this point, we were in class. And it was before 9:30. And our entire career as a student completely changed within an hour. At least, that's how I felt. So, the term "Dis-Orientation" definitely fit.

Parading through the halls, we made our way to our new "Morning Coffee Clubhouse" ...thinking about it now, I feel like that name for our room just completed our little time travel back to the '70s- (it'll all make sense in a bit, I promise) There we went over logistics, started realizing how crazy we are for signing up to do work, saw technology fuddle our teachers, got over our first awkward club meeting, and receive our colorful schedules.
A lovely young advisee of Mr. Krakowsky, I believe her name was Izzie(?), designed this beautiful logo/poster for us- it has our standard Grecian cup, some people kayaking in coffee, and the New York City skyline as our backdrop! Yay!

Again, we sort of get herded through the halls to Mr. Meyers' room. Now, the caffeine was hitting us(or maybe just me, I don't know about the rest of my classmates) and our first "Apple Core" was to take place. Mr. Krakowsky starts off by explaining how he views the world. That history isn't linear, and life doesn't work in such an organized way, but that he sees things in layers and webs. Layers are large identifiers, location, time period, etc. In these layers are webs of lives, groups, organizations and their contacts, their family members, tragedies, who they probably encountered or opposed. Jumping off of this, Dr. Banks tell us that we are going to travel back in time to the 70's and try to picture New York during the chaos of economic downfall, counterculture remnants, commercial boom, and these "tribes" that form just as they always have. We are brought to our 90 minute, 1979 time warp- The Warriors.

Thus, we are given the task to form our own tribe. Find a name, create a logo, an outfit for the tribe, rap or slogan, and a secret handshake. Tribe members only.

Warriors, come out to plaaayy~
Embrace the crazy and get comfortable with the disorient,


PS. Did I spell kwaaa correctly?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Arthur Ave pics

Some pictures from our Arthur Avenue Scavenger hunt.

View from Van Cortlandt

A picture from my walk today through Van Cortlandt park (click on picture to expand).  A beautiful day for a walk, right?

The Greatest Grid

runs through April at the Museum of the City of NY on Fifth Avenue and 104th Street. 

I loved it and highly recommend it. There is something vaguely magical and inexplicable in the fact that such a vibrant city grew from the vision of three commissioners who were mostly concerned with merely creating a pragmatic system for selling land and constructing buildings. The simple 1811 Grid became a framework for sustaining not only economic growth but diversity, opportunity, creativity and, yes, liberty. Not bad for three guys who are otherwise pretty obscure (OK, Morris wrote the Preamble, but who knows it?). Go and enjoy this well-designed exhibit and leave yourself time to pore over some of the most engaging maps I have seen (see if you can find where your house/apartment would be amidst the 19th century rocks, hills and trees).

Reading List

Hey everyone, just to let you know, this semester we'll be reading Pete Hamill's Forever, E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland and Collum McCann's Let The Great World Spin.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Welcome to the City Semester Blog

Welcome to the City Semester: The Bronx Experience weblog.  This is where teachers and students from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School will be posting updates about our experiences in the City Semester program. Please visit our website to learn more about City Semester.
- The Teachers