Angels in America

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Whenever I sit in a window seat in a flight, I always think of a scene in the TV miniseries of the play Angels in America (first broadcast 11 years ago today!) in which a character - Harper - sits in a window seat (go watch it, it's brilliant!).

And as one of my recent flight was to New York, this led to remember more scenes from the play set in and around Manhattan - including the memorable final scene set at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park.

This led me to go in search of more Angels in America, dotted around New York.

This angel above holding a globe is part of the large monument at the centre of Columbus Circle.

This small angel - perhaps more a cherub or maybe just a little baby - is one of a pair perched on a lamppost on Grand Army Plaza right by Central Park. Take a look:

These two angels are to be found on the bronze base of a flagpole outside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

These two angels are upon the Federal Office Building at 90 Church Street, just near Ground Zero.

But many angels I thought I had found actually turned out to be eagles - the symbol of the United States - like this above Grand Central Terminus.

London to New York from above

Friday, December 05, 2014

You don't see much land on a flight from London to New York (especially if it's a cloudy day in the UK Ireland) - otherwise, it's the Atlantic Ocean all the way.

But, as you descend along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the USA, there are lovely views of islands, coasts and cities like these.

(This is Plum Island - I saw this on my last flight to New York too.)

Buffalo Ghost Signs

Monday, November 24, 2014

I stayed overnight in Buffalo, New York after my trip to Niagara Falls.

There isn't a huge amount to do in Buffalo, but I did enjoy walking around and finding lots of ghost signs - a sign or painting kept on a building for longer than needed. Wikipedia helpfully says that "the signage may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner".

Though, on reflection, maybe some of these aren't Ghost Signs, and are still thriving businesses - much like the signs in my Words on Walls post.

Words on Walls

Saturday, November 22, 2014

As a fan of graphic design and typography, I particularly love seeing words painted on walls, signs, billboards and elsewhere.

So much so that I started a Words on Walls Pinterest board to collect my favourites.

To me, typography on walls, signs etc is an equivalent to public art and sculpture. You can get a sense of a city or country through them.

There's something about words painted on brick or metal which strikes me as very American. I took these examples on my trip to New York and Chicago.


Monday, November 03, 2014

When I was in America, I took a long train journey - 9 hours - from New York City all the way upstate to Niagara Falls. A few days later, I then took a Greyhound Bus from Buffalo, NY all the way to Chicago, a drive of 14 hours!

During both journeys, I looked out the window as America went passed. I had expected vast landscapes: forests of huge autumn trees, huge, wide open fields full of corn and maize, great lake vistas.

In truth, the road was miles in land from the lakes, and there really wasn't that many huge fields.

Instead, we passed through lots of sprawling landscapes; towns appeared, and stayed around in fits and starts. We rarely went through totally empty landscapes, but equally didn't go through huge cities or towns very much.

They were landscapes filled with nothing in particular.

I made these 7 videos along the way.

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

A video posted by Adrian (@acediscovery) on

Voices from Fifth Avenue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

One evening, in New York, I starting walking from Central Park to my hotel in West 48th Street. It was a short walk of 11 blocks. I walked along Fifth Avenue, and became intrigued by all the voices passing me by. So much so, that I stayed walking for a lot longer, listening, listening, listening.

I heard short snippets of conversations, people passing - some zipping, some sauntering, some on their phones.

I've already got that ...... You've got to go for it when you can ...... I dunno ...... Pretty sure he just drives around ...... Are you excited? I don't think it's open ...... See the grid, Lady Gaga walked out there at midnight ...... T-Mobile's good for the most part ...... I've never been to the top of New York ...... I'll take it back with me, I'll take it back with me ...... You want me to come with you when you get your licence? ...... I mean what's the purpose of that? To make sure everyone knows how to do everything - is that it? ...... Thank you for helping. I know that's the last thing you wanna do ...... And whoever they're with, they're not right ...... So I don't intend to lose it ...... But they never actually do it ...... "Oh because of the cut?" "They cut the pay?" "Yeah" ...... We hadda sweet-talk one of the security guards ...... I'm so slow, everything's so slow ...... I told him I'd buy him a ...... There's nothing to do; it's like there's always something to do ...... Hot as hell. Tall, big old man's man ...... Confidence and cockiness are just totally different ...... I think she's tired ...... He's such a dawg, he's such a this, such a that ...... I didn't wanna go ...... I typically work at home ...... I was, like, so hoping she would call me out ...... I need to get some basic pants ...... I was teaching and the kids were sitting ...... It wouldn't have happened and it wouldn't have been fine ...... None of them will get married ...... Are New York girls like that too? ...... My boyfriend, when he comes to pick me up, he walks from 34th ...... Right. Where are you working? ...... So come for anything and everything, you can sleep over ...... When I was sitting in the precinct ...... The one at the bottom has pistachios ...... Two days off! I have a big job ...... No, I step on it and it moves ...... I'm just walking around a lot cos I'm playing cards in a couple of hours ...... I wish we could call Maurice  ...... What kind of food are you in the mood for? ...... That, like, makes me crazy ...... Help me out today! ...... Gourmet doesn't have to be expensive to be gourmet ...... We're going to walk to 50th and here we are ...... Yay give me a hug!

In a New York moment

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The last time I went to New York, I looked up a lot and took hundreds of photographs of skyscrapers.

This time around, I looked more to street level and listened at all the teeming life around me on the streets of Manhattan.

A woman on a bus re-telling her love life story to a stranger, specifically her second husband: "He was strong and tall and handsome and shit so I had to marry him."

A young Asian-American man sitting in a park answers his phone: "Hey, I'm good. I'm sitting in Union Square writing in my journal, I've had a soy latte and I'm enjoying this beautiful fall day in New York."

On the subway, a labourer with hard hat and clothes stained with paint and cement wearing three large rings on one hand, one silver and chunky, one like Darth Vader's head, one polka-dot and glittering.

Two men in Central Park discussing where to park their cart.

"I'll go in the middle lane."
"But you can't clog up the middle lane"
"I will!"
"Well, you're funny as hell!"

A man outside a courthouse trying to be restrained, but jumping up and down shaking his fists above his head saying "yeeeeaah man I can't believe I got that lucky!!"

Two fire engines and a police car trundle along 9th Avenue with their sirens set to a low plaintive wail (like you'd imagine a banshee to have), prompting a dog to howl with them, prompting its owner to straddle the dog and try to calm him, prompting a German couple to look and enthuse "beautiful dog".

An elderly woman with her little granddaughter are transfixed watching a man play a Chinese musical instrument. A wobbly old dude cones along and starts doing a silly dance. It's all taken in good humour. (He'd get a slap in London.)

Talking Statues in London

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

At the weekend, I spent a day listening to London's Talking Statues.

This is a new project where a number of statues talk and tell their story to you, via your phone.

I love seeing statues, I have a pinterest board dedicated to my favourite statues. I've often looked at statues and wondered "who's that dude, why's he here?" (more often than not, it is a man).

So this project really appeals to me.

Doubly so, as it's part of a wider Digital R&D project from the Arts Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta: essentially a way to have arts organisations think differently and try out digital tools. So: it's my day-job at the Horniman.

Over the course of the day, I visited twelve of the statues. Here are some thoughts.

  • I loved it. I found it great to hear from (some of) these characters, especially the historic people. Words to describe: fascinating, illuminating, funny, heartwarming, imaginative, informative. I learned things I never knew about Queen Victoria, Rowland Hill and John Wilkes.

  • I don't think the talking statues are designed to be seen the way I did, by visiting lots in one day. It works best as serendipity, you see a statue and then the plaque telling you to hear the statue. That said, something connecting them would be good too - a hashtag or something on the plaque to give the sense that there are more to see.
  • For me, the talking statues worked best when the statue was a real person (or animal). The fictionalisation of artworks didn't really appeal to me. But I loved hearing from the 'real' Queen Victoria, from Brunel or Rowland Hill.
  • The technology worked well for me. I can't use NFC tags (my phone doesn't like them) but the QR codes worked fine, as did typing in an address (I used that one most).
  • The NFC tag on the plaque is a symbol and the word 'Tap'. It was fascinating watching how people interpreted that. They tapped the tag with their feet, with their fingers, but never with their phones. Some people tapped repeatedly. (It reminded me of a time I saw a woman at the Horniman literally speak a question into an iPad as it had the wording "Ask a question" [we meant 'type in']).
  • Tech fans: the 'statues' don't actually phone you. It all connects to mobile-optimised websites which cleverly package streaming audio to look and feel like a telephone call.
  • At several of the stops, I got into conversations with other people about the technology, about the talking statues. It was quite enjoyable sharing these little moments.
  • Even when I was alone, my presence listening and looking at the statues encouraged other people to look at the statues that little bit more.
  • Public artworks are quite unusual in a museum sense. They often have no interpretation whatsoever.
  • My favourite: without doubt, Queen Victoria. Two of her statues are narrated, both by Prunella Scales. A wonderful actress playing a wonderful character.

What people talk about in the USA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm off on my travels next week, to the USA. I'm taking in Long Island (the Hamptons!), New York City, Niagara Falls, the rather random city of Adrian, Michigan and Chicago.

Last time I went to New York, I loved the people-watching, seeing those glorious travel moments.

This time I think my ears will be attuned to hear more than three examples.

In anticipation, I've been looking at one of my favourite phrases to search on twitter: "people talk about in" - seeing what people talk about in certain places. It almost always seems to be America.

Here's hoping I'll be able to tweet my own version of these.

London from above: Westminster Cathedral

Monday, August 11, 2014

One of the greatest views in any city is from above.

In London, the two of the most famous ways to see the city from on high are the Shard and the London Eye.

But there are other ways (cheaper too). A few weeks ago, I went to Westminster Cathedral and took the lift to their tower to admire the views around me.

The views around Victoria show many modern buildings, lots of glass and steel offices and shopping centres - and some surprises like rooftop gardens.

Looking around from that vantage point gives a wonderful span of buildings including Westminster Abbey, the Cheesegrater, BT Tower, Walkie Talkie, the Shard, Strata SE1, Vauxhall and Battersea Power Station.

Carneval del Pueblo

Monday, August 04, 2014

Carneval del Pueblo - Europe's largest Latin American carnival which takes place in South London - was supposed to see its 2014 event yesterday. I had hoped to go along and take lots of photographs of the colourful costumes, dancing and music.

Sadly, it seems to have been postponed; the lastest in a long line of postponements or cancellations year after year. Hopefully it will be back soon as a full on parade from Elephant and Castle to Burgess Park and festival afterwards. I certainly enjoyed it.

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite photos from a previous Carneval del Pueblo.