Miniature models are awesome. Scale models of buildings and landscapes are such precious objects crafted by their creators with precision and care. They are built to capture a moment in time – to freeze the idyll of a bygone American landscape of railroad depots and bustling main streets, or to visualize the critical moments of an epic battle across an open field. I love the sense of omniscience that models provide – we can peer into windows, look down alleyways, and see this whole vast creation laid out before us on a single horizon.
Their scale and detail can be breathtaking at times. We recently visited the Ringling Museum of Art
in Sarasota, Florida, where Howard Tibbals' vast model of the fictitious Howard Bros. Circus
is on display (pictured left). Tibbals has been working on the 3,800-square-foot model for over 50 years, and he claims it is still incomplete. In Shartlesville, Pennsylvania, you can visit Roadside America
, a model train village that was also the single-minded creation of one man, Laurence Gieringer. In both of these models, the time scale is altered as well; every few minutes, darkness falls over of the scene to mark the passing of another day. At Roadside America, each nightfall is marked by a projection of the Statue of Liberty on the horizon, as well as one of Jesus, and the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Every day is the Fourth of July/Christmas at Roadside America.
When deployed in movies, models can show a landscape tranquil and pristine a few brief moments before it is ravaged by a dam burst
or an earthquake
. Unlike with computer-generated effects, even if we can see the inconsistent shadows, the absence of people, or any other tell-tale sign of a movie miniature, any kid who has ever built a diorama can identify with the magic of movie making. The science fiction film Moon
, one of my favorites of the past year, eschewed CGI for its moonscapes in favor of models, and the results are brilliant. Iinterestingly, the main character, played by Sam Rockwell, is seen throughout the film whittling his own miniature village to pass the time on the solitary moon base.
Now, what if we could reverse this process of movie trickery – rather than make the small look big, we make the big look small, and we can capture the wonderment of miniature models in the world around us without the tedium of a lifetime of whittling and painting? Behold the magic of tilt-shift photography, a technique that makes ordinary scenes of the real world appear to be carefully constructed tiny models. The process works by shallowing and narrowing the depth of field in photographs, shrinking the area that is in focus either through the use of special lenses or by digital manipulation of pictures. Suddenly, your neighborhood can be transformed into a block in Roadside America, or a neighborhood waiting to be trampled beneath Godzilla's foot.
You can make your own tilt-shift photographs with the aid of an online tool, tiltshiftmaker.com
. The results are endlessly pleasing, and I've spent hours miniaturizing my entire life – the photograph above is a picture I took along the water on the north shore of Staten Island. One stunning example of this technique I recently stumbled across is a short film by Sam O'Hare titled "The Sandpit
," which depicts New York City in miniature. I especially like the water scenes, even though they look the least like miniatures – water can be a giveaway of a miniature
, since water droplets can't be scaled down to size – because the boats resemble toys in a pond. If you would like to learn more about how this film was made, check out this interview with the creator
Finally, if a digital simulation of a miniaturized New York City is not satisfying for you, just visit the Queens Museum of Art
, where they have the city's Panorama, a scale model of every building in the city built before 1992 – that's 895,000 buildings arrayed over 9,335 square feet. Created for the 1964 World's Fair on the orders of Robert Moses, who lorded over the city as if it were his own personal model, the Panorama has gone through several updates and overhauls since its unveiling. The museum offers free tours of the Panorama every Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.
Last week, I told you about
an upcoming episode of NBC's Law & Order
that was filmed in my neighborhood, Brooklyn's Windsor Terrace
. I had speculated as to which neighborhood they might try and pass our street off as, but instead of making it a stand-in for a specific place, our block was labeled simply, "Queens."
For some reason, the show informs its viewers of the exact address of locations in Manhattan, but anytime they wander into other boroughs, they don't bother to specify. In Monday's episode, they visit a dentist's office, and the screen reads, "721 East 26th Street." When the action moves outside of Manhattan, we get no location and date card, and no signature "doink doink
" sound; we just have to infer from the dialogue that they are in some unspecified area of Queens, which just happens to be the city's largest borough. Were they in Astoria
, which presumably is close to the fictitious 27th Precinct where the detectives work (which would be somewhere in Harlem, based on the locations of the real-life 26th and 28th Precincts
) or did they have to drive an hour and a half out to Rosedale
? This can have an impact on the story, as the detectives frequently moan about having to drive to Westchester or Albany, and it matters to us lowly outer-boroughers (at least, it matters to me).
'We're looking for a guy somewhere in Queens. You seen him?'
Speaking of the story, the episode "Four Cops Shot" was loosely based on an incident in Lakewood, Washington last November
, when four police officers were shot dead in a coffee shop. The Law & Order
episode had the added twist of the suspect potentially facing the federal death penalty – in the real incident, the shooter, Maurice Clemmons, never faced a court, as he was shot and killed by a police officer two days after the murders. It is somewhat eerie that the episode filmed on my block also happened to be about federalizing murder cases in order to seek the death penalty in states without capital punishment (the death penalty in New York was struck down by the courts in 2004), which is a topic I have been studying and writing about for the past year.
It doesn't matter if it's Brooklyn or Queens when you're inside.
I can't say that I have ever been walking in a park in New York City, seen something on the ground, and then thought to myself, "I sure would like to eat that."
That is until I met "Wildman" Steve Brill
and went on his urban foraging tour. For an hour and a half, we ranged about Forest Park in Queens, digging in the understory, plucking leafs and twigs, and experiencing the park with a new sense – taste. In addition to sharpening my tongue to the flavors of the forest, the tour opened up my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the woods. Even with the cursory knowledge of edible plants I gleaned from the tour, the forest scene in front of me suddenly popped with delectables; this experience was much like when I started to learn birdsongs, and the meaningless din of tweets became a symphony of identifiable species. I have been an avid birder ever since, and perhaps the Wildman has convinced me to find more of my daily fodder on the forest floor.
The Wildman prepares lunch.
Brill has been doing foraging tours for nearly 30 years in parks and woods around the city and the greater New York area. He has run afoul of the authorities a few times, most notably in 1986, when the city's Parks Department ran a sting operation and busted him for picking dandelions and eating them (click on the "My Arrest" link on his webpage for a lengthy list of clippings related to the incident). The city no longer expends so many resources cracking down on weed pickers, but they are still not crazy about foraging – as long as you are discreet and not denuding the forest, no one will arrest you for collecting a few greens for a salad or herbs for tea. If you do go foraging, of course, remember that there are many, many poisonous plants out there, so be careful. When asked if he had ever been poisoned, Brill answered, "Yes. I was raised on junk food."
Who said there are food deserts in New York City?
So, what were some of these urban vegetables we collected, and how did they taste? Our first plant was, of course, the dandelion – an easily identifiable and abundant weed that makes a nice salad (though the leaves become bitter later in the year, much like overripe lettuce that has "bolted"). We also tried a few garlic-related plants, like field garlic (pictured at top), which resembles chives, and garlic mustard, which is in the mustard family, but its leaves taste like garlic and its roots like horseradish. If you are interested in making tea, the twigs of the black birch (tastes like wintergreen) and the common spice bush can be boiled for various medicinal effects – I tried the latter, and honestly, I think I will be sticking to my Lipton tea bags. My big take of the day, though, was a large root of sassafras, which I intend to use in a batch of homemade root beer (more to come on this project).
My haul for the day. Clockwise from top: Sassafras, common spice bush, black birch, and garlic mustard.
I discovered this tour thanks to my friends over at the Atlas Obscura
. The event was part of Obscura Day
, a worldwide celebration this past Saturday of wondrous and curious places. More than 80 different museums, tours, and other institutions from 20 different countries put on special programs for the event, which drew more than 4,000 participants. In addition to the Wildman's program, other Obscura Day events around New York City included a special tour of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel
(which we have highlighted before
), a tour of Brooklyn's Dead Horse Bay, and a visit to the taxidermied wonders of the Vanderbilt Museum
on Long Island. The day turned out to be a big success, and thanks to the folks at Atlas Obscura for putting it together.
If you would like to join "Wildman" Steve Brill on one of his outings, check out his website
for a calendar of events, an encyclopedia of edible plants, and recipes for cooking them.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I guess I can call myself a real New Yorker now. Why? Because an episode of NBC's Law & Order has been filmed on my street. For a full day back in February, the cast and crew of the police procedural occupied a swath of Windsor Terrace stretching from McDonald Avenue to East 5th Street filming an episode for the series' 20th season.
The arrival of the Law & Order film crew brings a mix of excitement and annoyance to any New York City neighborhood. There's the double bonus of famous people in your neighborhood and getting to see your block on television, but then there's the hassle of blocked streets and restricted parking. One of our neighbors, the Greenwood Deli & Grocery, was so giddy about the show's arrival that they set up a stand with plastic fruit and vegetables (the place is not known for its produce) in the hopes of attracting the film crew to shoot in front of the store. The prop fruit stand didn't make the show, as the crew stayed on the other side of the street.
During the filming, series stars Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson interrogated an elderly woman, and a squadron of actors pretending to be SWAT raided one of the block's nicer houses – their guns looked real, but their uniforms were too crisp and clean to mistake them for real officers. This neighborhood is actually home to many police officers, and I got to watch the small screen action while standing next to some real off-duty cops. I asked one officer if she spotted any glaring mistakes in their police procedure, and she said no, she was just having fun watching; her partner had even less to say about the filming, as he was a German Shepherd K-9 police dog who was just enjoying his walk.
A stand of plastic oranges, limes and garlic was not enough to lure the crew.
The episode will air this coming Monday, and what I am most interested to see is which neighborhood our street is a stand-in for on the show – Law & Order
stories occasionally bring police and prosecutors across the river to Brooklyn, but most of the action usually takes place in Manhattan. If that is the case, I can't really think of a neighborhood in Manhattan that resembles the modest two-story rowhouses and vinyl-sided homes of Windsor Terrace. Considering that the vast majority of the show's audience are not New Yorkers, the show sometimes takes liberties with locations. I recently watched an episode titled "Bible Study
," which supposedly took place at a synagogue on Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side. While that street is home to a synagogue
, they did not film anywhere near this address – rather than a narrow street crowded with tenements and adorned with Chinese signs, as the real Eldridge Street is, the block in the episode was a broad, leafy avenue with a row of brownstones on one side and a park on the other. So, when our block is shown on the show, don't be surprised if our sleepy residential corner is labeled 42nd Street and Madison Avenue.
'Man, the apartments in this neighborhood are HUGE.'
Law & Order
, along with its spin-offs, is filmed almost entirely on location in New York City (the interior shots are done at a studio in Chelsea). Some locations have been used repeatedly over the years, and The Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting has a list online
of selected past filming locations, so you can try to hang around some of these places to catch the film crew. But if you live in New York long enough, you are bound to just bump into the show eventually.
If you're more interested in tracking real cops and robbers in New York City, there's ways of doing that as well. Police scanners are fun and popular way to follow what the police are doing in your local area, but unless you are a member of the emergency services branches (police, fire, EMS), it is illegal to have a police scanner installed in your vehicle in New York state, but there are ways to listen to the NYPD's radio communications. The website Mel's Garage
carries a live feed of police communications, as well as information about precinct locations and 10- codes. If you own an iPhone, there are several police scanner apps, such as Scanner 911
, which just recently began carrying New York City police feeds.
The episode featuring Windsor Terrace, titled "Four Cops Shot," airs Monday, March 22 at 10 p.m. So keep your eyes peeled for Greenwood Avenue and our local watering hole, Denny's Pub.
Bernard tries to convince Lupo to move to Windsor Terrace: 'It's close to the F train, it's great for kids, and Prospect Park is a couple blocks away ...'
No, it's not the last vestiges of the old German neighborhood of Yorkville (which can be found here
); it's something far older. "Old Europe
" is the name given to a civilization that existed roughly 7000 years ago in the lower Danube Valley in present-day Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, and artifacts from these ancient settlements are currently on display at NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
, located on East 84th St. in Manhattan.
The exhibition, titled "The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC
," is not the product of new archaeological finds, but is a new interpretation of old artifacts and discoveries gathered from nearly two dozen museums in eastern Europe. The sites of this Neolithic, pre-Indo-European society were first unearthed in the 1930's, and they were originally thought to be disparate and unconnected settlements. In the 1970's and 80's, new discoveries and scholarship led to the conclusion that they were part of a cohesive civilization that stretched across southeastern Europe, one that was, in fact, highly sophisticated for its time.
Examples of ceramic figurines, the so-called 'Thinker” and a female figure from Cernavodă, Romania, c. 5000 - 4600 BC
The Old Europeans' contemporaries in the Middle East and East Asia are far better understood, but this exhibition provides some fascinating insight into the structure and culture of this society. The show is organized around thematic elements and materials used in their artwork, many of which highlight the connections between Old Europe and the rest of the ancient world. Stylized pregnant female figurines are similar to those found in Anatolia, and sea shells from the Aegean Sea used in jewelery show that they were part of a trade network extending from Turkey to the English Channel. More copper and gold artifacts have been discovered at these sites than anywhere else in Europe dated before 3500 BC, and their pottery designs are highly advanced for their time.
The exhibit also explores the important place of the built environment in Old European art. They made architectural models of their settlements (pictured at right), and, as one display notes, "The miniaturization of human figures and architectural structures indicates a complex relationship between the Old Europeans and the built spaces defining their communities." No evidence of palaces, temples, or other public buildings has been found at any excavations, suggesting that their lives revolved around domesticity, and these small figures could be arranged around the home to allow daily interaction with art and spirituality. Despite the absence of grand buildings, some settlements found in western Ukraine dating to 3500 BC contained 1,500 to 2,000 buildings, making them the largest cities on earth at the time.
So, what happened to this vibrant culture, which appears to have simply disappeared more than 5000 years ago? The arrival of Indo-European peoples from the Eurasian steppe may have caused their decline, but many communities persisted for centuries after these horse-riding nomads made their first appearance. So much remains unknown about Old Europe, but this unique exhibit offers a fascinating new imagining of this ancient culture.
The museum is open every day except Monday, from 11am to 6pm, and until 8pm on Friday. This exhibit runs through April 25, 2010.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact email@example.com.