Saturday, December 31, 2011

#1: The Big Red One

Galway, Ireland

Ah, nothing like a few of my favorite things to close out 2011: an Irish setting, some nice hand-painted handiwork, an eye-popping color contrast, scenic bits of flaking rust, and an unexpected location (front of a Galway Dumpster, anyone?). Oh yes, and in the title, a reference to an old war movie, which I'm amazed I don't manage to work in more often considering how much time I spend watching them. I might have to spend all of next year tracking down pictures of Steve McQueen and writing about the typography in the credits of The Great Escape to get my fix. But then, I wouldn't dream of doing that to you, loyal readers...

So here we are: the end of the number line. Another year, another 365 numbers. Though sometimes the constant deadlines drove me mental, it's been so much fun picking through my collection and sharing the best and the brightest of the bunch. I've enjoyed having so many readers drop by and visit, whether you comment or just have a look over your morning coffee. I knew #1 was going to have to be special in a year filled with so many of them scattered about -- it was totally worth paying that bill late just so I could have an excuse to write 11/11/11 on that check -- and I hope this one does the year justice.

Those of you who followed along in 2009 know that even after reaching a big milestone such as this, I'm not terribly good at remaining quiet. There were the Helvetica postcards, the homages to Dublin dereliction, and the "hey-look-at-me-I'm-posting-unthematic-things-and-it's-making-me-uneasy" apologias. You can expect -- if not more of the same -- more meanderings and stabs in the dark in the new year as I continue to make disturbances in the blogosphere. But in the meantime, I want to wish you all a very happy new year and to say thank you for making Ampersand Seven one of my favorite shared obsessions ever.

Friday, December 30, 2011

#2: Two Cheers

Downtown Brooklyn

I found this weird and wonderful crew in a window display in the back roads behind Fulton Mall. The little fella with the #2 on his shirt is a charmer, and I'm guessing I'll be feeling something of his jubilation in two days when I make it to the end of the countdown. Scenes like this remind me of why I started this project in the first place -- because there's nothing quite like the covert thrill of discovering a cool number buried in the bustle and visual clutter of a busy street scene. This little guy is bringing the party. Now where's that bottle of champagne?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

#3: Three Point

Flatiron District, NYC

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#4: Four-Leaf Clover

Upper East Side, NYC

Mosaics in Galway, terra cotta from Radda in Chianti, that ruined Brooklyn beauty on 4 Verandah Place -- It's getting harder to pick them now that we're down to the final four, but the fact that this 4 looks like some sort of sinister pterodactyl head gives it the edge.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

#6: Black Sand Six

Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland

Six days left to the countdown and if I wasn't so busy sitting in front of this Christmas tree, re-watching ridiculous hockey videos and polishing off this bottle of Pinot Noir and carton of Candy Cane gelato, I'd swear I'd be recapping the year by now.

'Tis the season for top-ten lists, best-ofs, and the urge to summarize on a project like this is hard to resist. While I love fresh beginnings, I'm allergic to endings, which is maybe a convincing argument against the whole "counting down" format. But I've devoted the whole year to it, so there'll be no turning back now.

This summer, I spent six days in Iceland, and at the time, I remember placing each pale stone on the black sand beach into the shape of a number six, thinking how far away the end of the year sounded -- that day in December when this "6" would find its place in the countdown. The thought of even a not-so-distant future was a stray thought, easily blown away by an Arctic gust. It was better -- easier -- to return to where I was and take in the details of that cold August evening as they unfolded: the soft roll of the ocean waves lapping up to the pitch black sand, the eerie walk at dusk back to the hotel with the faint lights of the tiny village twinkling through the haze, the young barman in round spectacles slowly wiping the cognac glass clean from its leftover coating of volcanic ash.

So while that inevitable year-end desire to summarize is here, when I sit down to write, strange, disconnected details are all that come out: black sand, twinkling village lights, the scrape of blades on ice. And though it pains my inner Witness Protection Program to reveal my whereabouts, maybe that's the place I've been hiding out for much of this year: the present. Spending less time tinkering with the collection and more time doing the collecting. Giving projects room to breathe. And when deadlines -- both real and imaginary -- loom, remembering that writing requires five senses and not just one.

As the year draws to a close, it's not a bad thing to look back. So long as it doesn't turn into a no-holds-barred, contact lens-drying staring contest. A glance will do.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

#7: Seahorse Seven

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#10: On Yer Bike

Portobello, Dublin

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

#11: Sunrise, Sunset



Red Hook, Brooklyn

Monet had his haystacks; I have my leviathans of crumbling waterfront industry. Let's admire that golden Red Hook sunset, shall we?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#18: Snowman

West Village, NYC

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

#21: Dublin Drive Time

D'Olier Street, Dublin

While I have slowly surrendered some of my Luddite ways over the past few years, I still like to bemoan what I call the YouTube-ization of everyday life. Very few things in life are worth filming, and still fewer worth re-watching. This does not stop legions of so-called smartphone-wielding urbanites from whipping out their cameras to capture even slightly unusual events with the express intent of posting the clip online as quickly as possible: some dude breakdancing in Grand Central Station, or else the breathtaking magical holiday subway car -- an antique subway train fully restored to its past glory -- that unexpectedly pulled up today at the West 4th Street stop to take me on a rickety, surreal short trip back through time before dropping me off, bewildered, at 2nd Avenue. (Intrigued, New Yorkers? You can find out when to catch the vintage train here.)

Each to one's own, but I can't help pity these video vultures a bit. It's like they're ordering the fast food version of important moments: quality is of no object, only quickness, only grabbiness -- things must be captured at all cost. There's nothing worse than going to a great show where your view of the stage is obstructed by dozens of eager hands wielding so-called smart phones over their heads, the very LIVE show you are trying to watch getting its soul collectively sucked up by so many people out to document the moment. Recently, I reveled in watching the comic John Oliver cheerfully berate an audience member who was filming Oliver's stand-up routine on his iPhone. "What?" Oliver demanded, interrupting his routine to face the bright blue glowing light in the audience. "Is now not good enough for you?"

I confess I've been tempted to do the same, particularly when it comes to places I love. There are few things that make me happier than wandering the streets of Dublin, and once or twice I've been so taken with the view from the quays that I've filmed the length of the Liffey and the parade of blurry strangers tromping over the Ha'Penny Bridge, just so I could take a piece of the experience home with me. The re-watching, alas, is a poor copy of the real moment, and I find that my sketches and notes, with all their messiness and flaws, capture the feel of city better. (And nothing beats the moment itself.)

But I have to change my view on this a little after finding something cool on the interwebz: an interactive YouTube clip that takes you on a drive through the streets of Dublin. Driving in Dublin is not something I have any particular wish to do (give me feet or bicycle wheels any day), so maybe that's the salvation: I have no romantic notions to be quashed. Anyway, I found a neat little clip that takes you past D'Olier Street, where you can just barely make out the location of today's number (on your far left at :29). To my delight, the meandering route then snakes around to College Green, where you can see the bookstore where I used to work at the end of the street at 1:06. There's a whole bunch of videos in the series, and as you're watching you can click on the screen and go to other clips, essentially taking yourself on a mini drive through the dear dirty city.

Inevitably, more than five minutes of this sort of play would probably lead me into a depression (poor copies make me long for the real thing), but I still think it's a pretty cool concept. Curious? Go ahead and take the drive yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#22: Playing the Building

Battery Marine Terminal, NYC

A few years ago, I got to participate in the half-art installation, half-mad scientist's experiment that was David Byrne's Playing the Building. For this piece of public art, Byrne (musician, urbanist, bike fanatic, and everyone's favorite Talking Head) infiltrated an abandoned maritime warehouse in lower Manhattan, then turned the building into a huge, clanging musical instrument -- all controlled by a single organ hooked up to various bits and pieces of the building itself. The space itself was haunting and beautiful: crumbling industrial pillars, concrete floors, high ceilings, and shafts of sunlight illuminating the room in great swathes of light and shadow.

Then I sat down at the control panel: a wooden organ rigged with cables and gauges that stretched out to all corners of the vast room. Press a middle C and a hammer clanged a distant radiator. Play an A chord and listen as a deep rumble filled the space. An experiment in sound-as-architecture, Playing the Building also had a deviously simple concept: invite anyone to walk in off the street and participate in the play. Today's 22 was snapped just outside the Battery Marine Terminal on the day I went to the exhibit. When I look at it, I can still hear clanging water pipes and humming ceiling beams.

An abandoned maritime warehouse as musical instrument? Yeah. I could get into that.

Why thank you! Don't mind if I do.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

#24: Hey Buddy! No Parking.

Greenwich Village, NYC

Here's one thing about New York City: We really, really don't want you to park in front of our garage doors. Ever. So while we can't guarantee you'll obey our orders, we do make our prohibitions pretty so at least you'll pay attention. Forget those unimaginative orange traffic cones and ho-hum street signs erected by less creative types. These numbers, graphic and eye-catching, are the last frontier of No Parking warnings. Enjoy this fine collection of 24's -- most of which hail from the no-parking haven of Dumbo in Brooklyn -- quick. Before we tow ya.

Is that a "Z" or is it a "2"? No time for typography talk now -- I hear the tow truck a-comin' round the bend.

A bit of yellow, a splash of neon pink, and great swathes of black on gray: kickin' it old skool in Dumbo.

Like, actual effort went into this one. Check out the careful shadowing on the text of "HOURS." We take our No Parking garages seriously in this borough.

Umm. Guy in Red Hook? With the stencil and the black spray paint? I don't know how to break this to you, but–

And finally, the winner: I'm not sure what stencils were harmed in the creation of this one, but I approve of the outcome.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#28: The Riesenrad

Leopoldstadt, Vienna

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011