Chtcheglov’s Formulary for a New Urbanism

Formulary for a New Urbanism is the urtext of the concept of pyschogeography. It was written by Ivan Chtcheglov under the pseudonym Gilles Ivain in 1953 when he was all of 19 years old. Chtcheglov struggled with mental health issues and was actually in a mental hospital when Formulary was first published in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste.

The writing here is disjointed, and at times, surrealist. But perhaps in that confusion Chtcheglov was attempting to get us closer to the feeling psychogeograhers crave of finding something new, and, ideally, deeper, by being lost in the city.

This translation of Formulary was done by the incredible Ken Knabb, a man who has done more to bring Situationism to the English speaking world than anyone else. Ken was translating this stuff way before you thought it was cool.

In fact, you think its cool because Ken translated it. Check out his website at http://www.bopsecrets.org/

Formulary for a New Urbanism

(Translation of the Newly Published Complete Version)

 

SIRE, I AM FROM THE OTHER COUNTRY

We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That’s lost. We know how to read every promise in faces — the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of the billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards, the latest state of humor and poetry:

Showerbath of the Patriarchs
Meat Cutting Machines

Notre Dame Zoo
Sports Pharmacy
Martyrs Provisions
Translucent Concrete
Golden Touch Sawmill
Center for Functional Recuperation
Saint Anne Ambulance
Café Fifth Avenue
Prolonged Volunteers Street
Family Boarding House in the Garden
Hotel of Strangers
Wild Street

And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls. And the police station on Rendezvous Street. The medical-surgical clinic and the free placement center on the Quai des Orfèvres.(1) The artificial flowers on Sun Street. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Coming and Going Café. The Hotel of the Epoch.

And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, fading in the last evenings of summer. Exploring Paris.

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That’s all over. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

All cities are geological. You can’t take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

These dated images retain a small catalyzing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them by giving them a new meaning. There was a certain charm in horses born from the sea or magical dwarves dressed in gold, but they are in no way adapted to the demands of modern life. For we are in the twentieth century, even if few people are aware of it. Our imaginations, haunted by the old archetypes, have remained far behind the sophistication of the machines. The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. Meanwhile abstraction has invaded all the arts, contemporary architecture in particular. Pure plasticity, inanimate and storyless, soothes the eye. Elsewhere other fragmentary beauties can be found — while the promised land of new syntheses continually recedes into the distance. Everyone wavers between the emotionally still-alive past and the already dead future.

We don’t intend to prolong the mechanistic civilizations and frigid architecture that ultimately lead to boring leisure.

We propose to invent new, changeable decors.

* * *

We will leave Monsieur Le Corbusier’s style to him, a style suitable for factories and hospitals, and no doubt eventually for prisons. (Doesn’t he already build churches?) Some sort of psychological repression dominates this individual — whose face is as ugly as his conceptions of the world — such that he wants to squash people under ignoble masses of reinforced concrete, a noble material that should rather be used to enable an aerial articulation of space that could surpass the flamboyant Gothic style. His cretinizing influence is immense. A Le Corbusier model is the only image that arouses in me the idea of immediate suicide. He is destroying the last remnants of joy. And of love, passion, freedom.

* * *

Darkness and obscurity are banished by artificial lighting, and the seasons by air conditioning. Night and summer are losing their charm and dawn is disappearing. The urban population think they have escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no corresponding expansion of their dream life. The reason is clear: dreams spring from reality and are realized in it.

The latest technological developments would make possible the individual’s unbroken contact with cosmic reality while eliminating its disagreeable aspects. Stars and rain can be seen through glass ceilings. The mobile house turns with the sun. Its sliding walls enable vegetation to invade life. Mounted on tracks, it can go down to the sea in the morning and return to the forest in the evening.

Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality and engendering dreams. It is a matter not only of plastic articulation and modulation expressing an ephemeral beauty, but of a modulation producing influences in accordance with the eternal spectrum of human desires and the progress in fulfilling them.

The architecture of tomorrow will be a means of modifying present conceptions of time and space. It will be both a means of knowledge and a means of action.

Architectural complexes will be modifiable. Their appearance will change totally or partially in accordance with the will of their inhabitants.

* * *

A new architecture can express nothing less than a new civilization (it is clear that there has been neither civilization nor architecture for centuries, but only experiments, most of which were failures; we can speak of Gothic architecture, but there is no Marxist or capitalist architecture, though these two systems are revealing similar tendencies and goals).

Anyone thus has the right to ask us on what vision of civilization we are going to found an architecture. I briefly sketch the points of departure for a civilization:

— A new conception of space (a religious or nonreligious cosmogony).

— A new conception of time (counting from zero, various modes of temporal development).

— A new conception of behaviors (moral, sociological, political, legal; economy is only a part of the laws of behavior accepted by a civilization).

Past collectivities offered the masses an absolute truth and incontrovertible mythical exemplars. The appearance of the notion of relativity in the modern mind allows one to surmise the EXPERIMENTAL aspect of the next civilization (although I’m not satisfied with that word; I mean that it will be more flexible, more “playful”). (For a long time it was believed that the Marxist countries were on this path. We now know that this endeavor followed the old normal evolution, arriving in record time at a rigidification of its doctrines and at forms that have become ossified in their decadence. A renewal is perhaps possible, but I will not examine this question here.)

On the bases of this mobile civilization, architecture will, at least initially, be a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life, with a view to an ultimate mythic synthesis.

* * *

A mental disease has swept the planet: banalization. Everyone is hypnotized by production and conveniences — sewage systems, elevators, bathrooms, washing machines.

This state of affairs, arising out of a struggle against poverty, has overshot its ultimate goal — the liberation of humanity from material cares — and become an omnipresent obsessive image. Presented with the alternative of love or a garbage disposal unit, young people of all countries have chosen the garbage disposal unit. It has become essential to provoke a complete spiritual transformation by bringing to light forgotten desires and by creating entirely new ones. And by carrying out an intensive propaganda in favor of these desires.

* * *

Guy Debord has already pointed out the construction of situations as being one of the fundamental desires on which the next civilization will be founded. This need for total creation has always been intimately associated with the need to play with architecture, time and space. One example will suffice to demonstrate this — a leaflet distributed in the street by the Palais de Paris (manifestations of the collective unconscious always correspond to the affirmations of creators):

BYGONE NEIGHBORHOODS
Grand Events
PERIOD MUSIC
LUMINOUS EFFECTS

PARIS BY NIGHT

C O M P L E T E L Y   A N I M A T E D

The Court of Miracles: an impressive 300-square-meter reconstruction of a Medieval neighborhood, with rundown houses inhabited by robbers, beggars, bawdy wenches, all subjects of the frightful KING OF THIEVES, who renders justice from his lair.

The Tower of Nesle: The sinister Tower profiles its imposing mass against the somber, dark-clouded sky. The Seine laps softly. A boat approaches. Two assassins await their victim. . . .(2)

Other examples of this desire to construct situations can be found in the past. Edgar Allan Poe and his story of the man who devoted his wealth to the construction of landscapes [“The Domain of Arnheim”]. Or the paintings of Claude Lorrain. Many of the latter’s admirers are not quite sure to what to attribute the charm of his canvases. They talk about his portrayal of light. It does indeed have a rather mysterious quality, but that does not suffice to explain these paintings’ ambience of perpetual invitation to voyage. This ambience is provoked by an unaccustomed architectural space. The palaces are situated right on the edge of the sea, and they have “pointless” hanging gardens whose vegetation appears in the most unexpected places. The incitement to drifting is provoked by the palace doors’ proximity to the ships.

De Chirico remains one of the most remarkable architectural precursors. He was grappling with the problems of absences and presences in time and space.

We know that an object that is not consciously noticed at the time of a first visit can, by its absence during subsequent visits, provoke an indefinable impression: as a result of this sighting backward in time, the absence of the object becomes a presence one can feel. More precisely: although the quality of the impression generally remains indefinite, it nevertheless varies with the nature of the removed object and the importance accorded it by the visitor, ranging from serene joy to terror. (It is of no particular significance that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of these feelings; I only selected this example for its convenience.)

In De Chirico’s paintings (during his Arcade period) an empty space creates a richly filled time. It is easy to imagine the fantastic future possibilities of such architecture and its influence on the masses. We can have nothing but contempt for a century that relegates such blueprints to its so-called museums. De Chirico could have been given free reign over Place de la Concorde and its Obelisk, or at least commissioned to design the gardens that “adorn” several entrances to the capital.

This new vision of time and space, which will be the theoretical basis of future constructions, is still imprecise and will remain so until experimentation with patterns of behavior has taken place in cities specifically established for this purpose, cities bringing together — in addition to the facilities necessary for basic comfort and security — buildings charged with evocative power, symbolic edifices representing desires, forces and events, past, present and to come. A rational extension of the old religious systems, of old tales, and above all of psychoanalysis, into architectural expression becomes more and more urgent as all the reasons for becoming impassioned disappear.

Everyone will, so to speak, live in their own personal “cathedrals.” There will be rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug, and houses where one cannot help but love. Others will be irresistibly alluring to travelers.

This project could be compared with the Chinese and Japanese gardens that create optical illusions — with the difference that those gardens are not designed to be lived in all the time — or with the ridiculous labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes, at the entry to which (height of absurdity, Ariadne(3) unemployed) is the sign: No playing in the labyrinth.

This city could be envisaged in the form of an arbitrary assemblage of castles, grottos, lakes, etc. It would be the baroque stage of urbanism considered as a means of knowledge. But this theoretical phase is already outdated. We know that a modern building could be constructed which would have no resemblance to a medieval castle but which could preserve and enhance the Castle poetic power (by the conservation of a strict minimum of lines, the transposition of certain others, the positioning of openings, the topographical location, etc.).

The districts of this city could correspond to the whole spectrum of diverse feelings that one encounters by chance in everyday life.

Bizarre Quarter — Happy Quarter (specially reserved for habitation) — Noble and Tragic Quarter (for good children) — Historical Quarter (museums, schools) — Useful Quarter (hospital, tool shops) — Sinister Quarter, etc. And an Astrolarium which would group plant species in accordance with the relations they manifest with the stellar rhythm, a Planetary Garden along the lines the astronomer Thomas wants to establish at Laaer Berg in Vienna. Indispensable for giving the inhabitants a consciousness of the cosmic. Perhaps also a Death Quarter, not for dying in but so as to have somewhere to live in peace — I’m thinking here of Mexico and of a principle of cruelty in innocence that appeals more to me every day.

The Sinister Quarter, for example, would be a good replacement for those ill-reputed neighborhoods full of sordid dives and unsavory characters that many peoples once possessed in their capitals: they symbolized all the evil forces of life. The Sinister Quarter would have no need to harbor real dangers, such as traps, dungeons or mines. It would be difficult to get into, with a hideous decor (piercing whistles, alarm bells, sirens wailing intermittently, grotesque sculptures, power-driven mobiles, called Auto-Mobiles), and as poorly lit at night as it was blindingly lit during the day by an intensive use of reflection. At the center, the “Square of the Appalling Mobile.” Saturation of the market with a product causes the product’s market value to fall: thus, as they explored the Sinister Quarter, children would learn not to fear the anguishing occasions of life, but to be amused by them.

The main activity of the inhabitants will be CONTINUOUS DRIFTING.(4) The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in total disorientation.

Couples will no longer pass their nights in the home where they live and receive guests, which is nothing but a banal social custom. The chamber of love will be more distant from the center of the city: it will naturally recreate for the partners a sense of exoticism(5) in a locale less open to light, more hidden, so as to recover the atmosphere of secrecy. The opposite tendency, seeking a center of thought, will proceed through the same technique.

Later, as the activities inevitably grow stale, this drifting will partially leave the realm of direct experience for that of representation.

Note: A certain Saint-Germain-des Prés,(6) about which no one has yet written, has been the first group functioning on a historical scale within this ethic of drifting. This magical group spirit, which has remained underground up till now, is the only explanation for the enormous influence that a mere three city blocks have had on the world, an influence that others have inadequately attempted to explain on the basis of styles of clothing and song, or even more stupidly by the neighborhood’s supposedly freer access to prostitution (and Pigalle?).(7)

In forthcoming books we will elucidate the coincidence and incidences of the Saint-Germain days (Henry de Béarn’s The New Nomadism, Guy Debord’s Beautiful Youth, etc.).(8) This should serve to clarify not only an “aesthetic of behaviors” but practical means for forming new groups, and above all a complete phenomenology of couples, encounters and duration which mathematicians and poets will study with profit.

Finally, to those who object that a people cannot live by drifting, it is useful to recall that in every group certain characters (priests or heroes) are charged with representing various tendencies as specialists, in accordance with the dual mechanism of projection and identification. Experience demonstrates that a dérive is a good replacement for a Mass: it is more effective in making people enter into communication with the ensemble of energies, seducing them for the benefit of the collectivity.

The economic obstacles are only apparent. We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences people’s behavior and the greater is its force of attraction. This is demonstrated by the immense prestige of Monaco and Las Vegas — and of Reno, that caricature of free love — though they are mere gambling places. Our first experimental city would live largely off tolerated and controlled tourism. Future avant-garde activities and productions would naturally tend to gravitate there. In a few years it would become the intellectual capital of the world and would be universally recognized as such.
IVAN CHTCHEGLOV(9)
1953

 

[TRANSLATOR’S NOTES]

  1. The humor and/or poetry of some of the signs in this list is obvious, but in other cases it will be obscure for the non-French reader. Quai des Orfèvres, for example, is the headquarters of the Paris Police Department and placementmeans not only job placement but also arrest. Saint-Anne’s is a street name but also a well-known mental asylum. Some of the other oddities stem from the Parisian habit of naming stores after their street names, which are often rather picturesque, in many cases dating back to the Middle Ages. “Alimentation des Martyrs,” for example, was probably a grocery store located on Rue des Martyrs.
  2. The Court of Miraclesand The Tower of Nesle: allusions to two Medieval tales dramatized, respectively, by Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
  3. Ariadne:woman in Greek mythology who gave Theseus the thread enabling him to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.
  4. DRIFTING:Elsewhere at this site, the original French term dérive is used. See Debord’s Theory of the Dérive.
  5. exoticism:literally excentricité, which in French can mean either eccentricity or outlying location.
  6. Saint-Germain-des-Prés:Parisian neighborhood frequented by the lettrists in the early 1950s. It was famous as the scene of postwar bohemianism and existentialism (Camus, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, etc.), but less visibly, in less trendy cafés and less reputable bars, Chtcheglov, Debord and their friends pursued their own adventures, evoked in Debord’s Mémoires and in two of his films (On the Passage and In girum) and recounted in detail in Jean-Michel Mension’s The Tribe
  7. Pigalle:Parisian red light district. Chtcheglov’s point is that the supposed presence of prostitution had nothing to do with Saint-Germain-des-Prés’s cultural impact since Pigalle had far more prostitution yet exerted no particular influence.
  8. 8. Neither of these books were written. Henry de Béarn, another Lettrist International member, was a close friend of Chtcheglov’s.
  9. “Ivan Chtcheglov participated in the ventures that were at the origin of the situationist movement, and his role in it has been irreplaceable, both in its theoretical endeavors and in its practical activity (the derive experiments). In 1953, at the age of 19, he had already drafted — under the pseudonym Gilles Ivain — the text entitled “Formulary for a New Urbanism,” which was later published in the first issue of Internationale Situationniste. Having passed the last five years in a psychiatric clinic, where he still is, he reestablished contact with us only long after the formation of the SI. He is currently working on a revised edition of his 1953 writing on architecture and urbanism. The letters from which the following lines have been excerpted were addressed to Michèle Bernstein and Guy Debord over the last year. The plight to which Ivan Chtcheglov is being subjected can be considered as one of modern society’s increasingly sophisticated methods of control over people’s lives, a control that in previous times was reflected in atheists being condemned to the Bastille, for example, or political opponents to exile.” (Introductory note to Chtcheglov’s “Letters from Afar,” Internationale Situationniste#9 [1964], p. 38. A passage from one of those letters can be found here.)

“Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau” was written in 1953. An abridged version appeared in Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958), a translation of which was included in the first edition of theSituationist International Anthology. The present text (included in the Revised and Expanded Edition of the SI Anthology) is a translation by Ken Knabb of the complete original version, which has just been published for the first time in France (Écrits retrouvés, Éditions Allia, 2006). See also the biographical study by Jean-Marie Apostolidès and Boris Donné: Ivan Chtcheglov, profil perdu (Allia, 2006).

No copyright.

 

12 Thoughts On the New York Marathon Course

This past weekend, I ran the last twenty miles of the New York Marathon course, from Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn to the finish line in Central Park. Here are thirteen things about the course. Some I remember from the last time I ran this race ten year ago and some I remembered during my run the weekend.

You can see NYRR’s course map here, and elevation profile here.

Share your thoughts on the course in the comments!

1. Park Slope is where you’ll start to see real crowds. The New York Marathon is a street party from start to finish. You’re unlikely to go more than a quarter mile without a hearing the cheers, but the crowds really get going when you hit stroller Brooklyn at Fourth Avenue and about Tenth Street. There will be kids wanting high fives, and adults screaming your name. Use the crowds to keep you excited, but don’t worry if you’re too focused to miss a high five. And watch out for my running club, Prospect Park Track Club with the red banners, they’ll be cheering somewhere around Fourth Avenue and Union street!

2. Lafayette Avenue is going to be a blast. Coming down fourth avenue, you’ll reach the intersection with Flatbush and cross over onto the slightly uphill Lafayette Avenue. This will take you straight into one of the loudest parts of the course – Fort Greene comes out in force. Expect drums squads, cheering families, and possibly an actual band or two. When I ran this race the last time ten years ago, this was one of my favorite parts of the course. If you don’t love New York already, you will when you leave Fort Greene / Clinton Hill.

3. Don’t expect big crowds on Hasidic Bedford Avenue. From Fort Greene you’ll continue through to Clinton Hill, where the cheering will remain robust. But as you turn off Lafayette onto Bedford Avenue, expect things to quiet down a bit. Bedford Avenue from Flushing to Division is home to one of Brooklyn’s most devout Hasidic communities, and they tend not to be big marathon supporters. This is only about a mile of the course; it might be a nice respite between the big crowds of Fort Greene and the coming crowds of Williamsburg.

4. Hipsters be hip, but they’ll still cheer for you. Once you cross underneath the Williamsburg Bridge, you’re in one of the hippest (and most expensive) neighborhoods in Brooklyn – Williamsburg. Crowds will be armed with aeropress coffee, beards, and cheers. Expect ironic signs and families with expensive strollers. It’ll be fun.

5. Long Island City might slow you down. After Williamsburg, you’ll continue down Bedford into Greenpoint and then over the Pulaski Bridge into Long Island City. Greenpoint / Long Island City is one of the more maze like sections of the course with a number of twists and turns. Expect to slow down here as you make a series of turns through this formerly industrial, now high rise condo, part of Brooklyn and Queens.

Here I am on bridge number one, the Pulaski:

6. The Queensboro Bridge is long and it is steep. If you’re planning on running New York, someone has already talked to you about the Queensboro. Its long, and its steep, and there are no crowds. Coming at about mile 15 in the race, this is when things are starting to get real. Take it one step at a time and try to enjoy the view (if you can see it).

The view from bridge number two, the Queensboro. As you’ll probably be running in the middle of the road, your view isn’t likely to be as nice.

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Bridge #2 mile 7.5 #nycmarathon #running #92bridges

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7. The crowds on lower First Avenue can’t be beat. Soon enough, you’ll have climbed and descended the Bridge and you’ll be coming around the sharp corner off the bridge and into the insane cheering scene that is First Avenue. With one of the biggest crowds on the course, First Avenue and 59th street will be a nice pick-me-up after the bridge. Use the crowds to keep your mojo going, but don’t get too excited – there’s still ten miles to go.

8. Upper Fifth avenue? Maybe not so much. As you head north to Harlem and the Bronx, the crowds will thin out some. This is where I plan to put on the music and just crank out the miles. First Avenue is a (basically) flat 5k. Get in the groove and click off the miles.

9. There are a number of turns in the Bronx. Similar to the twists and turns of Greenpoint / Long Island City, the Bronx involves some twists and turns, over some slightly rolling terrain. Expect to slow down a bit here as you navigate the turns.

You’ll enter the Bronx on the Willis Avenue Bridge. 

10. Fifth Avenue is uphill. After your very short sojourn in the Bronx (you’re only there for about a mile and a half) it’s back into Manhattan and down Fifth Avenue. And by down I mean heading downtown, ‘cause this is actually a sneaky little uphill and odds are by now you’re feeling it.

11. The park is rolling. At 90th street you’ll pull into the park for the home stretch of a little more than two miles. The crowds will be huge, and the road will be undulating. Don’t let the fact that your legs are killing you get in the way. Enjoy these last miles. Pass the historic reservoir, and the zoo, the quickly across central park south and up to the finish line where the music will be blasting, the crowds cheering, Congratulations, you finished!

12. The end of the race isn’t the end of your day. You’ll cross the finish line, get your medal and space blanket, and then you’ll walk. For a while. At the very least, you’re going to walking another ¾ of a mile before you get out of the post marathon scrum. Odds are, you’ll be walking even further than that. Take it easy though, you’re done.

So that’s twelve quick impressions I have of the marathon. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

EDIT: I’ve seen some great comments on this post on various running forums. I’m adding some of them here with the permission of the poster.

Runasics from runningahead wrote: Mile 2 is the fastest mile I’ve run a marathon.  I was ~50 seconds faster than goal pace.  It’s a ski slope, more so than the 1st mile at Boston (which was shockingly steep the first time).  Plus there was not the sense of being overly crowded.  And that was the surprising thing about NYC; beyond the 1st mile, it did not feel crowded like other big marathons I’ve run.

The 4th Ave stretch is awesome.  It gently undulates and you can get in a rhythm, which is then thrown off at mile 8 when you turn and get squeezed up that hill on Lafayette.  LOL.

I found the Hasidic neighborhood to be oddly comical.  The residents are going about their business as if the marathon is not occurring.

Queensboro Bridge isn’t THAT bad.  I slowed maybe 10 seconds per mile.  The off ramp onto 1st is where you can pick it up way too much.  You ride the wave until past mile 18 when suddenly, as you noted, it goes quiet.  I felt my pace drop at that point.  Then you head for the token Bronx visit, which is laughable ugly.

The welcome into Harlem is cool.  Then the stretch on 5th is indeed a long sneaky incline – it seemed to go on forever and I found this to be the toughest part of the race.  Going into the park and hitting some rollers after mile 24 was easy by comparison.  Just my experience.

The Brooklyn Half Marathon Preparty and the Dueling Cliches of Being an Aging Man in a Transforming Borough

Last night, after I went to pick up my bib for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I posted this on Instagram:

Is there any greater sign that a man has become old then complaining about a party? Probably not. But something about the contrived Brookly-ness of the Brooklyn Half Pre Party really gets to me.

In part it is because they host it on a pier in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a good fifteen minute walk from the train. It is terribly inconvenient and I’m convinced they host it there to encourage runners to spend more time (and money) at the party.

But I also hate it because of the food trucks, beer, and DJs; the photo-ops with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, and the vast array of merchandise for sale with “Brooklyn” on it.

Its all just a little too much.

Of course, all of this hoopla for a half marathon is, in part, because Brooklyn is having a moment – a sickening moment where it’s teetering on the edge of cool and clichéd. It’s a time when the hedge funds guys still rub shoulders with the municipal workers and teachers; where artisanal bakers can sell to graphic designers and start-up entrepreneurs; where everyone can grow a beard, but very few can afford the rent.

I love this place, I’ve lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else, but as another Brooklynite* said once its “bringing me down”. 

And to me, for whatever reason, the Brooklyn Half Pre-Party is a representation of just how out of control this is all getting — and of how close it all is to falling into pure cliché.

Because you see, big time half marathons are not cool. They never will be. Half marathons are the perfect distance for the average person, long enough to provide a sense of accomplishment, but not so long as to take over your life. They are, by design, run-of-the-mill. Sure midnight halfs, like the one put on by Orchard Street can be cool. But really, if you want cool, you have to go much further, or much shorter.  Half marathons are for the average jogger, the guy with the job, and the kid, and the mortgage.

Guys like me.

And we’re not cool.

Yet we’re also the future of Brooklyn.

 

Old guys, with child, at last year's Brooklyn Half.

Old guys, with child, at last year’s Brooklyn Half. Note aging punker with tattoos and beard.

Still, what the hell is wrong with me? Who begrudges people a good time on a sunny afternoon in park?

I do, apparently.

And in the end, perhaps that says more about me, and my nostalgia for a Brooklyn long gone, than it says about the goddamn pre-party.

Whatever, who knows. Tomorrow this old man is going to run, which is what the point of this is supposed to be anyway.

NOTES:

*Who owns a goddamn wine bar by the way. 

Bridges Project: The Pulaski and the Queensboro

Every time I head out, this bridge project gets just a little but harder.  The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges were an easy couple of miles from my home.  So were the Gowanus Bridges.  The Williamsburg was just a little bit further, but well within my running comfort zone.  Now that I’m starting to go a little further afield, things are getting interesting… and I’m having to pack my metro card.

This weekend I got the Queensboro, the ugliest (and longest?) of the Big Four East River bridges and the always charming Pulaski.

That’s ten down, eighty-one to go.

For this weekend’s adventure, I convinced good pal Paleo Joe to come along.  Joe is exactly the kind of friend every runner needs — he’s always up for a stupid running adventure.  When I asked him if he wanted to meet in his neighborhood  and run to the Pulaski Bridge, through Long Island City to the Queensboro, and then take the train home from 42nd street he said “sure”.

Runners, we’re all such idiots.

We got the party started around 8 am. I’d have left earlier, but Joe doesn’t have kids and he still clings to the idea that one “sleeps in” on the weekends.  Its cute.  From Joe’s place, we cruised down Washington Avenue to Flushing and hung a right, following the bike path as it meandered through Bed Stuy, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint.

Man has Williamsburg changed. I lived in that neighborhood roughly 10,000 years ago (ok, 1993-1994) when it was Puerto Rican bodegas, Polish Bakeries, and a handful of gentrifiers too poor to live in the Lower East Side.  The abandoned warehouse where I went to the Beer Olympics* is now a high-rise apartment building. The first apartment I lived in is now a club.

New York: its only constant is change.

From Williamsburg, we headed up through Greenpoint and over the Pulaski Bridge to Long Island City.  The Pulaski spans the Newtown Creek** and is the second bridge you cross in the New York Marathon***.

The Pulaski looking towards Queens

The Pulaski looking towards Queens

Its drawbridge, though I wonder how often its raised anymore.  It also has some pretty killer views of midtown Manhattan. It always reminds me of my first marathon.

Manhattan from the Pulaski

Manhattan from the Pulaski

Pedestrian access to the Pulaski is from McGuiness boulevard. You can’t miss it.

Leaving Brooklyn

Leaving Brooklyn

From the Pulaski, it was up through Greenpoint to the Queensboro**** – the East River’s ugliest bridge.

What is there to redeem this monstrosity? Decent views looking up the east river and down at Roosevelt Island? A long approach on the Queens side providing a scenic overlook of the Queensbridge Projects*****?

 

The view North from the Queensboro

The view North from the Queensboro

I don’t know; I’m not really a fan of this bridge.  The Queens approach is ridiculously long (and accessible from Crescent Street and Queens Plaza North) and the Manhattan exit is stupid steep with a hairpin turn.

It is also where the New York Marathon got real painful for me.  That may cloud my judgment of its aesthetic appeal.

After crossing the Queensboro, it was a short jaunt to 42 Street and home on the 4 train.  You’d think two sweaty, smelly, tattooed dudes in singlets would get a wide berth on the train, but you’d be wrong. Some dude was perfectly happy rubbing up against my nasty ass singlet just so he could lean against the doors.

This town fucking cracks me up.

*The Beer Olympics was a crusty/gutter punk festival of cheap beer and terrible bands held annually in New York.  When it was hosted in the abandoned warehouses, it was a Mad Max affair of bonfires, drunken fights, and roaming dogs.  I cannot imagine anything so out of control occurring in the New York today.

The Beer Olympics were so obscure, took place so long ago, and was organized by people with such a tenuous relationship to society that very little information about it is available on the Google.

This image is actually from the year after the year I am referring to:

Beer Olympics, 1995? Photo: Bob Arihood

** Second Superfund site crossed during this project!

*** The first one is the Veranzano, of course.

**** AKA the 59th street Bridge, AKA the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. New York is constantly renaming bridges, or giving them new nicknames. I love this.  It makes what is already a very intimidating city even more confusing for visitors.

***** I’m just going to go ahead and say no single housing project has produced more important Hip Hop than Queensbridge.  It was home to many of the stars of New York’s golden age of Hip Hop.  Including:

Nas:

Mobb Deep:

Capone and Noreaga:

Want more? check out this list.  Marly Marl is from there! Shante is from there! MC Shan!

 

On Running Everyday

Yesterday was a tough one.

Monday night, the little dude refused to sleep.  He woke up at midnight, and again at three, and again at four thirty.  Object permanence, they say. When my alarm went off at 5, instead of getting in a quick mile before heading out to travel to D.C., I hit snooze.

That was stupid.

Logically, I knew another ten minutes of sleep wasn’t going to make any difference in my day, but in that moment, my sleep deprived brain would accept nothing other than another ten minutes in bed.

So, 5:15. Up, shower, shave, coffee, suit, and out the door to catch the train to D.C.  All day in our nation’s capital in meeting after meeting. Ended up in a bar in Du Pont with an old friend watching the U.S. lose.

Back on the train.

Cold sandwich, beer, spy novel. If only I could sleep in public places. Into Penn Station at 10:40.  Fuck it, cab it home. Back in BK at 11:15.  Kiss the sleeping wife. Kiss the sleeping baby. Change and head back out.

“I’m going for a quick run” I tell a sleeping E.

“You’re insane” she replies.

Yes, maybe I am.

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What’s the point of dragging my exhausted ass to run a mile at 11:30 at night? There are no health benefits. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be better off, physically, if I just went to sleep.

But this isn’t just about the physical, is it? It is about running as a refuge, as a thing you can control and do for yourself. It’s a place to reflect — even if its just for eight and a half minutes. Hell, you can do it everyday if you want to.

And its about more than that, too, right? Its about wanting something, and playing tricks with yourself to make sure to get there. Its about ensuring that because no excuse is good enough, the training always gets done.  The miles always get logged, and you get where you’re trying to go little by little, day by day.

Its obsessive, sure, and many runners better than me don’t need to run everyday. But here’s what I’ve discovered – to get what I want out of running, both psychologically and physically, I do.

So there I was, at nearly midnight, with the people leaving the bars, and the guys on delivery bikes, and black cars circling for fares.  There was no place I’d rather be.

One point four miles. Eleven minutes.

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The Long Run: Two Bridges the Williamsburg and the Manhattan

Another gorgeous Sunday, another bridge checked off the list.  That’s eight down, eighty three to go.

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Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn side of the Wiliamsburg

 

The Williamsburg, the Willie-B, the Billyburg – with one end in the Lower East Side and the other in Williamsburg, it is the bridge the unifies hip, young, New York City.  Covered in rusting steel latticework,  it isn’t a pretty bridge and its street art as advertising campaigns, coupled with its hip users, make it not quite the work-a-day hero the Manhattan Bridge is — yet it still has its charms.

The Manhattan entrance to the Bridge

The Manhattan entrance to the Bridge

First, it is highly used. I’m sure the City keeps statistics on pedestrian and cyclist use of the various East River Bridges. I’d be curious to know which is used the most.  My guess is the Brooklyn gets the most foot traffic, but I’d bet that the Williamsburg is the most used by regular cyclist and running commuters.  At rush hour, the bike lane can be as congested as the car lanes below.

Its also, like it cousin the Manhattan, utilitarian in design. That appeals to this yankee.  Like the Manhattan (and unlike the Brooklyn) it carries trains in addition to cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.  Its beauty comes not from its majestic design, but from its consistent use.  On my sojourn today, I saw hip kids on vintage bikes, Hasidic families out for stroll, tourists taking pictures of art installations, young Dominicans on their way home from Pride, and runners of every stripe. No one was marveling at the aesthetics of the bridge (ok maybe the tourists were) — everyone was just looking to get somewhere else.

There is a real beauty in that.

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The aesthetic charms of the Bridge

 

From my neighborhood, I reach the Williamsburg by heading down Dean to Bedford, through rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights and Bed Stuy, and up through Hasidic Williamsburg.  Pedestrian access to the bridge is easily located right on Bedford near South Sixth (bike entrance is further down near the South 5th plaza).  Like the Manhattan, don’t be an ass and run on the cyclist side.  No one will like you and you might get hurt.  Exit from the bridge in Manhattan is shared by cyclists and runners and is located on Delancey near Essex.

Dean Street Stencil

Dean Street Stencil

 

From there, you can do as I did – head down Delancey to Bowery, left on Bowery and up and over the Manhattan Bridge home to Brooklyn.  Or you could head cross town to the West Side Greenway. Or uptown on the East Side Greenway.  You could stop and get dim sum, or matzo ball soup, or artisanal cheese. You could take your sweaty ass to the New Museum, or the Tenement Museum, or the Brooklyn Banks.  You’re in lower Manhattan, the world is your oyster.

Lower Manhattan art/ads

Lower Manhattan art/ads

 

The Long Run: Two Bridges — Brooklyn & Manhattan

After a couple of weeks of not running any bridges, this Saturday I was back at it and  checked two of the lowest hanging fruit– the Manhattan and the Brooklyn — off my list.  That’s seven down, eighty-four to go.

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Over the years, the Manhattan Bridge has been a staple of my running. I’ve run over it dozens of times as part of my running commute and on countless long runs.  Once, I did a back and forth on it it at nine o’clock at night to deliver a set of keys to E.  It’s my favorite of the “big four” East River bridges.*  To me, its the quintessential no nonsense New York City Bridge. Encased in fencing, it’s the ugly cousin of the majestic Brooklyn Bridge.  It doesn’t have the best views, or the nicest entrances, but if you want a no bullshit means of getting from Brooklyn to Manhattan, whether it be by train, car, bike or your own two feet, it can’t be beat.

Underneath all the Graffitti is the inscription that the Manhattan Bridge was built in 1901, making it the second youngest of the big four.

Underneath all the Graffiti is the inscription that the Manhattan Bridge was built in 1901, making it the second youngest of the big four.

For runners coming from Brooklyn, the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge is located near the corner of Jay and Sands Streets.  Take the stairs to your right, not the bike path to your left.  For runners entering from Manhattan, use the entrance on the south-east corner of Bowery and Canal.  Remember that the south walkway of the bridge is for pedestrians; the north walkway is for bikers.  Inevitably, when you’re on the bridge you’ll see someone doing this wrong – don’t be that person.

Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the Manhattan on a perfect saturday afternoon.

Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the Manhattan on a perfect saturday afternoon.

 

Saturday was such a gorgeous day, even the Manhattan was crowded with walkers, runners, and tourists setting up fancy cameras to take pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge.  I cruised along, listening to Big Krit, and taking a couple of pictures.  I exited onto Canal Street and weaved my way down through Chinatown and the courthouse area to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

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If it’s a gorgeous day in New York, the worst place in the City to run is the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is bumper to bumper with thousands of tourists.  Frankly, no runner belongs there. I certainly didn’t, and I tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. I weaved between families on citibikes and tourists taking selfies.  I couldn’t even bring myself to stop to take a picture.

 

Brooklyn Bridge on a summer's day = shit ton of people.

Brooklyn Bridge on a summer’s day = shit ton of people.

The Brooklyn Bridge is majestic, with stunning views of the city and the statute of Liberty.  If you’re visiting New York, you really should go. But its better enjoyed as a leisurely stroll than on a run.  If your dead set on running the Brooklyn Bridge, I suggest you go early. Whether you’re walking, running or biking, entrance on the Manhattan side if from City Hall Park at Centre Street. You cannot miss it.  On the Brooklyn side the main entrance is at Tillary and Adams.  There is also a less obvious entrance closer to the water at Prospect and Camdan Plaza.

I exited at Tillary and headed back past the Manhattan toward the Navy Yards.  I wanted to add a couple more miles to the day so I overshot my house, and cruised up Washington to Eastern Parkway.  It was a perfect day to be out exploring, but it was getting late and my legs were tired.  I called it a day at nine miles, went home, and put the little dude to bed. Next week is a cut back week, and I don’t think they’ll be any bridges.  But the week after than, I plan to knock another couple off the list.

Love is Patient

Love is Patient

Slowly but surely I’ll get them all. I’m not in a rush, I’m not going anywhere.

 

*The “big four” being the Brooklyn, the Manhattan, the Williamsburg and the Queensboro.  By the way, I just made up that designation.