Category Archives: Society

Spooktacular!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0112 cropped smallMy favorite holiday is Hallowe’en. What’s not to love? There are small children, gaudy costumes, and plenty of candy. Plus, my Goth-girl side revels in the idea of celebrating darkness, death, and the onset of winter.

But over the years, I’ve celebrated more in the breach than in the observance, since the end of October is one of the busiest times in my industry. (I’ll never forget hearing the joyous noises of the Austin Hallowe’en parade from my hotel room, where I was chained to my computer with an imminent deadline.)

So this year, I was delighted to break free from work and meet Vlad over at the Third Annual Halloween Spooktacular. It’s an Upper East Side block party, or rather mini-street fair. The organizers block off the street and hold costume contests—not just for children, but for adults, families, and pets too. There’s a DJ, a bubble artist, and did I mention the candy? And the houses are lavishly—indeed, extravagantly—decorated. (After all, this is the Upper East Side.)

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Book Review: From Pigeons to Tweets

By Johna Till Johnson

From Pigeons to TweetsFrom Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Changes in Military Communications, by Clarence E. McKnight and Hank H. Cox. History Publishing Company, Palisades, New York, 2013.

Okay, I know I have weird tastes in reading material. But when I picked up “From Pigeons to Tweets”, I didn’t expect what I actually got.

The subtitle is “A General Who Led Dramatic Changes in Military Communications”, and the author is Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight Jr. (along with journalist Hank H. Cox).

Given that, plus the relatively staid promotional blurbs from a range of military luminaries, I was expecting a dry treatise on the history of military communications technology.

That would have been interesting enough. I’m fascinated by military technology in general, and military communications technology in particular. (I told you I have weird tastes!)

What I got was (in part) a rollicking and thoroughly absorbing memoir by a man who rose to the highest ranks of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps (the branch that focuses on communications technology) and who had a reputation for hands-on effectiveness in setting up communications systems. (“McKnight could communicate from Hell,” says one of his colleagues—as a compliment.)

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Happy Birthday, Colette!

By Johna Till Johnson 

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You probably knew this, but January 28th is the 140th birthday of the French writer Colette.

Colette, in costume

Colette, in costume…

Okay, you probably didn’t know that. You might not even remember who Colette is, though chances are, you’re familiar with at least one of her works.

And you’re probably wondering why you should care about her birthday, or her.

Let me take a step back. This year,  Vlad and I have adopted a new tradition: We’ve selected a pantheon of personal heroes, and heroines—people whose spirits and lives matter to us—and are making a conscious effort to celebrate their birthdays.

Colette’s is the first, but there will be plenty of others.

So why did we select her?

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Halloween Spooktacular 2012

By Vladimir Brezina

The famous Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village was canceled, or at least postponed, because of Hurricane Sandy. But on the Upper East Side, the Carnegie Hill Neighbors’ second annual “Halloween Spooktacular” block party, held among the elaborate Halloween decorations on East 92nd Street, was even bigger than the first!

A few highlights:

Click on a photo to start slideshow:

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Travel Theme: Signs

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa‘s Travel-Themed Photo Challenge for this week is Signs.

We travel around by kayak. So, you wouldn’t think we would run into too many signs. But we do!

Scylla and Charybdis
……..Some years ago, Erik Baard and I paddled down from Manhattan and landed on the beach near the northwestern tip of Sandy Hook. We had a leisurely lunch, took a stroll along the beach, lazed about, and after a couple of hours were ready to paddle back to Manhattan. But just before we launched, we thought that we might, just out of curiosity, find out what those two big signs that stood there, facing away from us, said…

In the meantime, on the opposite, eastern side of Sandy Hook, there is another set of signs…

Bitter Sweet Heaven
……..In January, an aborted kayak trip left us wandering through the streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, aliens in our drysuits, observing the earthlings and their strange signs…

Read the full story here.

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Judgment Day
……..Last year, Johna and I were kayaking down the Hudson from Albany to New York City. Several days into the trip, we saw this sign promising, for the next day, devastating earthquakes that would usher in the Rapture… We hoped it wouldn’t disrupt our trip too much. But we were certainly glad to be out of New York City during this event. Traffic was bound to be terrible…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Create.

And these two did create quite an impression!

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In Memoriam

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

The old World Trade Center…

It was the posters that finally made it real.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Mine isn’t all that exceptional. I was in Midtown Manhattan that morning, preparing for a sales trip to New Jersey. I’d been awake since about 2 AM, working on a project for work.

… and the new World Trade Center

When the sirens first started, I didn’t think much of it. At least at first. But they kept going… and going… and going. Finally I looked out of the window and saw the column of smoke rising into the clear pale-blue air—and realized something serious was going on.

Then I turned on the TV and saw what everyone else did: the smoke, the helicopters, the collapse of the towers one by one.

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Red Hook: An Unexpected Adventure

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

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Experiencing the unexpected is the essence of adventure.

That was amply illustrated by our paddling experience on a recent weekend. In company with Harry and Runar, we set out toward Swinburne Island to see the seals that live there each winter. It was a perfect day for the trip: Sunny, temperature in the high 50s,  just enough wind to make things interesting. We figured it would be a great way to start off the seal-viewing season.

Instead, we ended up spending an afternoon exploring a part of the world we’d never seen before: Red Hook, Brooklyn. What we gave up in paddling and seal-watching we gained back in art, architecture, and entertaining social interactions.

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Ghosts, Goblins, Superheroes, and Pricesses Dance on the Upper East Side: A Photoessay

By Vladimir Brezina

Halloween. But I was stuck at home working. It was clear I wasn’t going to make it to the Halloween Parade in the Village this year.

But around 5 p.m., unusual sounds from the street below began to penetrate my concentration. I discerned excited voices, children’s squeals, and then—the beat of dance music!

When I emerged to take a look, I found that my block of 92nd Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, had been blocked off and the First Annual Carnegie Hill Halloween Block Party was in full swing!

It was mostly for children. Little ghosts, goblins, skeletons, witches, dragons, tigers, superheroes, knights in armor, princesses, pumpkins, bananas, cobwebbed barrels and even tubs of popcorn, some young enough to be held in arms by their parents who clearly were having just as much fun, cavorted in the street. A little later there was a tiny parade, and prizes were awarded for best costumes. Then, the main business of the evening: trick-or-treating from house to house. Many houses in that block have for days been festooned with their own cobwebs, giant black spiders, and grinning skeletons in anticipation.

Here are a few photos.

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Figment NYC 2011

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

On Saturday 11 June, 2011, along with our friend Runar, we visited  Figment NYC 2011, a free-form art festival that takes place annually on Governors Island in New York City (and in several other US cities). The vibe is half Woodstock, half Burning Man, with a dash of Magic Kingdom.

According to its organizers:  “FIGMENT is an explosion of creative energy. It’s a free, annual celebration of participatory art and culture where everything is possible. For one weekend each summer, it transforms Governors Island into a large-scale collaborative artwork – and then it’s gone.”

“Participatory art—what’s that?”, you ask. Read on: It can be anything—but most of  all, it’s fun! That was our biggest takeaway from Figment… it was a hell of a lot of fun, despite the cool rainy weather.

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