ZOOM’s Final Days – Megasale of Cultural Treasures in Video and Games

Landlord busts an Aladdin’s cave already being stifled by megastores nearby

Sixty years of fantasy on the block for half price or less

Among the treasures being sold off at 50% discount as Zoom’s emporium of fantasy are these beauties, accompanied by a Cosby kid doll!

Cognoscenti of fantasy culture in this city of niche specialties such as novel games and toys should know that it’s the last two weeks of final sale at the unique and irreplaceable Harlem store Zoom. This commercial but cultural gem has been brought down by a greedy rent increase (from $3800 to $6000) after its customers’ payday splurges were slowly siphoned off by the arrival of Costco, Best Buy and other megastores five years ago over in the 117 St Mall.

Where are you going to find this again, in a store in which you can actually look at and handle it to size it up properly?

Run don’t walk to this small Manhattan storehouse of imagination on Third at 109 Street in the next two weeks while it is still replete with wonders such as a giant four slice ultra hospitable toaster, video game figures and sitcom dolls, choice DVDs (eg Godard’s Breathless, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, A Fish Called Wanda, and Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, not to mention The Words of Ayn Rand), with benchmark VHS tapes such as Arthur, Local Hero or The Producers (not to mention the unmentionable The Vagina Monologues), and hard to find stuffed toys including a striking 3 foot tall Spiderman, some well costumed Superwomen dolls including Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, and even a wide eyed Bill Cosby kid doll, a couple of monkey heads which grimace, and a really far out prize, a $150 bottle of real Moet et Chandon champagne, vintage 1971. Originally cost three times as much, says Manny.

Maybe a $150 toast to the achievement of a store which served culture?

Zoom is as much clubhouse as store in the late afternoon as owner Manny Villefane exchanges stories rooted in local New York life not yet entirely obliterated by the heavyfooted march of the megastores nearby

In charge is Manny Villfane who for three decades has run the store his mother started thirty years before that, who presides over the clubhouse atmosphere in late afternoon (the store is open 2pm until 8pm) from his seat behind the far end counter, while a local specialist in computer rebuilding picks up a home phone designed in payphone format with a slot for 25 cent coins, and a baseball card collector shuffles boxfuls of rarities and reminisces with him about champion sluggers of the past.

This home pay phone with coin slot will keep your guests from freeloading, if you don’t buy it for changing it into a computer

Of course the end of Zoom is a sad loss for the city and just one more hole in the sidewalk city fabric which once knitted together the lives and interests of locals in a social network built on personal encounters with owners and their assistants, who became encyclopedias of information and explanation on their products and related activity such as fairs and shows of the latest versions available, whether they were in mundane hardware or drug stores or specialists in electronic excitement like Zoom.

Raymond behind the counter is himself a storehouse – of advice on the quality of movies you may not have heard of, but which at a giveaway $1 you can hardly afford to pass up, as well as how everything works

We recall running into Mayor Bloomberg a few years ago when he was cutting the ribbon on a new installation of wifi in the City’s parks – whatever happened to that? – and mentioning that we were covering the replacement of a storied Mafia barber nearby on 116 St by yet another Chinese takeout, another casualty of the perfect rent hike storm of the last decade blasting small storefronts in Manhattan and replacing them with Duane Reades.

A rather magnificent toaster “worth $300” went for $65 to some lucky buyer to warm up his kitchen and make it the most hospitable room in the apartment

We suggested that there was a need for legislation to slow the commercial rent tornados obliterating the small guys with their irreplaceable knowledge and all the what economists call human capital they had built up in a neighborhood over the years.

Detecting my English accent the good mayor replied “Oh we let money decide everything in this city, that’s the way we do it here!”

After a pause, though, he added,”of course, if it was my barber maybe I would do something!”

A box of 45s includes Tom Jones’ Its Not Unusual on a Parrot pressing

The barber was lucky enough to find a substitute location in the basement of a house along 116 Street recently bought by a doctor at Mt Sinai who heard about his predicament. But in the case of Zoom, a blank shutter is all that will be left as the month ends.

Landlords off the leash are eviscerating New York’s storefront culture, and blank walls is soon going to be all that is left of a vibrant local institution which was far more than a store

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Polish Champion Artur Szpilka Challenges Heavyweight Deontay WIlder

For nine rounds it seemed a good match despite Wilder’s 4 inches height advantage, but then a literally stunning end

Wilder and other top rank boxers unimpressed, as Szpilka Talked Destiny

But Knocked Out Cold as He Began to Win, Szilka Nearly Got There

In a magnificent theatrical saga worthy of updated Greek tragedy, or at least modern television Dickensian soap opera, a Polish underdog who had talked as if he were a man of Destiny met his match in the form of a taller Afro-American heavyweight champ with glistening biceps and unfairly long reach, and despite making headway by pummeling him in a blur of speed which brought them to a ninth round where Alabama native Deontay Wilder was acting slightly winded and the Polish ex-hooligan Artur Szpilka was possibly making uphill progress towards the far off prospect of an upset victory suddenly there was Szpilka tumbling out cold to the canvas, ready to be carted off to hospital on a stretcher to make sure he wasn’t too badly damaged by a knockout blow that he really shouldn’t have exposed himself to so openly as he got in too close to reach for Wilder’s head.

Presumably this untoward reversal was the result of the many blows that Wilder had landed on Szpilka’s face over the course of previous rounds which must have caused him to lose some measure of concentration on the one overriding priority he had to keep in mind, evasion of Wilder’s notoriously solid right hand punch which had already won him 34 knockouts in 35 fights. But contributing to the sudden debacle was the undoubted fact that the Bronze Bomber was following a watchful waiting policy that guaranteed that the slightest moment of vulnerable exposure would see the challenger stymied and dazed by a swift right to the head if not actually stretched out on the floor, and this was a perfect set up, a huge door of opportunity which Wilder was not going to miss because all he needed was a reflex which is his most used deadly weapon.
Along with the engaging interviews by both parties before the fight, with Szpilka vouchsafing he was fighting for Poland as much as himself, the parade onstage with both wearing masks in what appears to be a new tradition of boxing theatre rising to match the pre fight antics of wrestling. Wilder in his bronze mask reminiscent of Persian invaders, and Szpilka in a red handkerchief emblazoned with the arms of Poland, the determined penetration of Wilder’s long reach in the developing rounds of the battles, with points generally measuring a neck and neck equality but with Szpilka suffering more face blows than Wilder, it seemed, and the outcome not only in doubt but with a slightly improving chance that Spilka might pull it off, to the delight of the substantial crowd of Poles gathered in in the Center to support him in what was a christening of Brooklyn’s new home for boxing’s top fights and the return of major fights to what is rapidly becoming the new center of New York City after 115 years.

Then the sudden collapse, with Szpilka’s typically pretty Polish girlfriend at ringside consumer with anxiety for the welfare of her star quality partner. (Calm down. – Ed)

As an edge of the seat cliffhanger it couldn’t have been better scripted, even though the general opinion among boxers and at home in Poland before the fight was that Szpilka didn’t stand a chance again Wilder power and longer reach.

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Silicon City, the New York Historical Society’s Gift to the Geek in Us

Gadget Paradise Lost: Parade of Early PC Inventions Made Here in New York

How Computer History was Made First in Silicon Alley

This beautiful monster console and light array is the SSEC which operated in the heart of Manhattan in mid last century, one of the magnificent and rather beautiful and sometimes huge or minute artifacts of 20th Century built in New York City and proof that here was the throbbing heart of computer invention then, not Seattle. Twelve thousand five hundred tubes and over twenty one thousand relays stood at the core of IBM’s Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator. Developed by astronomer Wallace Eckert of Columbia University the calculator was installed in IBM’s headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue and was operated from 1948 to 1952. The SSEC is known to have calculated the position of the moon and the planets, the first computer to store data, as well as being the last electromechanical calculator ever built.

From Saturday Nov 13 to Apr 17, the New-York Historical Society stages an exhibition to delight every gadget enthusiast in America, a parade of magnificent engineering from mechanical to electronic showing off an under celebrated truth of history, New York’s central role in the digital revolution.

“Highlighting the pioneering work and technological innovations developed in the city that have transformed daily life. Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York, on view November 13, 2015 – April 17, 2016, presents New York as a technological hub where the intersection of commerce and innovation gave birth to the first computers and tech companies.

Featuring nearly 300 artifacts, including early computers and telecommunications hardware, archival materials, photographs, digital artworks, and interactive experiences that immerse visitors in the evolution of technology, Silicon City presents computer-related milestones in the New York region from the late-1800s to the 1980s. The exhibition was curated by New-York Historical’s Chief Curator Stephen Edidin, with assistance from Research Associate Christian Panaite.”

One of the IBM 700 series, the company’s first commercial main frames, formed with vacuum tubes, integrated input and output, and memory, this one being an IBM 702 Arithmetical and Logical CPU Unit, from 1954.

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Flowers that Fly: Abrams and AMNH Publish Titian Peale’s “Butterflies of North America”

Cattleheart Swallowtails (left and right) from Mexico and northern South America: artful science from the hand of Titian Ramsey Peale

After two centuries, the “Audubon of butterflies” at last gets his due

Strange but familiar obsession kept this unluckiest of lepidopterists resolute in the face of terrible setbacks

Carefully painted images capture Nature’s tiny canvases, matched by live hothouse observatory now open for year

Butterfly man Titian Peale and his good ship The Peacock which foundered off Oregon in 1841 along with all his precious specimens

Few men seem to have been as harmlessly productive as Titian Peale, yet few as violently abused by Destiny with uncalled for personal disasters.

The pioneering American lepidopterist (butterfly scholar) field researcher and artist was born in 1799 into a distinguished family in Philadelphia, where his father was a natural historian and painter who founded the nation’s first public museum, the Philadelphia Museum.

By the time Peale took over the Museum from his father in 1827, he had firmly established a lifetime of pioneering fieldwork and butterfly chasing which would ultimately result in his seminal work, The Butterflies of North America, Diurnal Lepidoptera: Whence They Come, Where They Go, and What They Do. But publication eluded him during his lifetime.

Complete with 100 hand colored lithographs of butterfly and moth species in his own, very personal artistic hand, its pages languished more than 100 years in the drawers of the American Museum of Natural History.

Abrams have gone to some lengths to present Titian Peale's work in the style and appearance of the original manuscript, eschewing gloss and other artifacts for paper and reproduction close in spirit to the originals carefully preserved in the holdings of the AMNH since 1916.

Abrams have gone to some lengths to present Titian Peale’s work in the style and appearance of the original manuscript, eschewing gloss and other artifacts for paper and reproduction close in spirit to the originals carefully preserved in the holdings of the AMNH since 1916.

Only today, Sept 1 Tues 2015, are they finally published by New York’s art book publisher Abrams. The attractively complete and unglossed book has proud commentary from the Museum’s president Ellen V. Futter, David A. Grimaldi, curator of the butterfly conservatory and of invertebrate zoology, and Kenneth Haltman, professor of the history of art at the University of Oklahoma, who called Teale an “artist-scientist”.

The Tiger Swallowtail with a chrysalis on the left, and on the right, the Two-Tailed Swallowtail from North and Central America, where it feeds on trees and has a scarlet caterpillar, drawn by the hand of Titian Ramsey Peale, “presenting scientific data informed by artistic sensibilities and a delicate, sure sense of pictorial decorum” (Kenneth Haltman)

The artistic quality of Peale’s work provokes a lyrical effusion from art historian Haltman to end his essay in the book: “His painted butterflies, scrupulous mimetic, meticulous detailed, place compositional inventiveness in the service of thematic ambition at nearly every turn… a sympathetic imaginative mapping of both his own psyche and one of the great wonders of the natural world.”

The American Painted Lady (left, southern US, Mexico and northern South America)) and The Buckeye (right, US and Mexico) ) with caterpillar, chrysalides and larvae.

The American Painted Lady (left, southern US, Mexico and northern South America)) and The Buckeye (right, US and Mexico) ) with caterpillar, chrysalides and larvae.

Butterfly therapy

David Grimaldi, who with Haltman introduced the volume to the press on Tuesday, acknowledged that Teale’s was a “sad story,” and said he took especial pride in finally releasing his masterpiece to the world after so many years.

Those drawings on the table in front of David Grimaldi are tokens of the state of “flow” that overtakes those who make detailed images of butterflies and other marvels of Nature, which may act as a palliative to those such as Titian Peale who have many undeserved blows to contend with throughout a long life.

Having drawn many illustrations for his own scientific publications – he brought some examples of his drawings of insects caught in ancient amber, one of his specialties – he said “I know personally the kind of solace and therapy that you derive from losing yourself entirely in doing these detailed renderings.”

A closer look at Grimaldi’s therapeutic copies of insects caught in ancient amber

Destiny’s hard blows

Unable to raise enough pledges from subscribers to get his beautiful handiwork into print during his lifetime, Teale’s career was marked by other huge setbacks. Yet nothing stopped him in his pursuit of a passion which when it grips is one of the strongest in science, offering both preoccupation and solace amid life’s vicissitudes.

Butterflies collected: some idea of the infinite variety of colors and camouflage these fabled insects offer can be drawn from the drawers of the AMNH on the fourth and fifth floors where white painted filing cabinets hold two and a half million specimens from far and wide

In the four years that he joined the first US South Seas surveying expedition he collected as many as 400 specimens, kept behind when sending the rest of his collection to dry land, for fear of losing them. But all were lost when his ship The Peacock was wrecked off Oregon in 1841, a grievous destruction which included his private library and many of his notes.

To compound this disaster, when he returned to Philadelphia he found that all the butterfly specimens he had entrusted to the Academy of Natural Sciences had been lost in a storage fire, the family museum was also lost, and his wife, a son and a daughter had all died.

A profusion of color and camouflage in a tray from another (the Hayden) collection in the museum’s cabinets.

The result of all this misfortune was only to drive Peale deeper into his preoccupation with butterflies, however, and he never let up. He took a job as a patent examiner in Washington to get by, and remarried, buying a house which he filled with painting tools and butterfly specimens. He ended his life in Philadelphia after retiring, as fascinated as ever with Nature’s tiny mobile canvases.

Yet during his lifetime of devotion his proposed masterwork The Butterflies of North America, Diurnal Lepidoptera: Whence They Come, Where They Go, and What They Do failed to attract enough subscriptions to finance publication, and both his illustrations and his manuscript were eventually presented to the American Natural History Museum nearly one hundred years ago (1916).

The pleasingly unglossy volume is a fine memorial to America’s First Lepidopterist, and the many thousands of others who share his preoccupation with Nature’s harmless and pretty “flowers that fly”, as Robert Frost put it.

His lovingly painted illustrations of flying flowers are bolstered by adding his companion text on caterpillars with more than a hundred of his detailed paintings of these creatures or larva, pupa and a few adults in watercolor from Peale’s album with its marble paper-covered boards which also, until today, was available for viewing only in the AMNH Rare Book Collection.

Beauties briefly alive

Meet a live butterfly - five hundred of them will inhabit this leafy hothouse for much of the year from Sept 5 Sat to next May 29 Sun, offering a chance to inspect some of the 45,000 known butterfly species in all their glory as they flutter about aiming to land on an orange slice or other rotting fruit, their favorite supper

Meet a live butterfly – five hundred of them will inhabit this leafy hothouse for much of the year from Sept 5 Sat to next May 29 Sun, offering a chance to inspect some of the 45,000 known butterfly species in all their glory as they flutter about aiming to land on an orange slice or other rotting fruit, their favorite supper

Meanwhile live versions of many of Peale’s favorites will soon be fluttering around in the warm, moist air of the museum’s Butterfly Conservatory, whose Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter. The show will be open from Sat September 5 to Sun May 29 2016, featuring about 500 tropical specimens from around the world feeding on orange slices and settling on flowers, plant leaves or visitors hands or shoulders.

A visit to the AMNH’s butterfly greenhouse is for all ages, and perhaps even the smallest can be encouraged by the insect’s triumphant and unexpected metamorphosis from mundane caterpillar to dashing beauty of the air.

The one that you make friends with will not be around in three weeks, however, since the insect’s life span is limited. The Museum imports more from its Florida farm to keep the stock up throughout the winter.

With its large “eye”s staring back at you from its wings, this little “sky-flake” (as Robert Frost called it) feels secure from the large humans surrounding it as it attends to sucking up the orange juice at hand, which it enjoys especially if it is slightly rotten.

The encounter with lepidoptera in the Conservatory is the same as in the sun in a field or maybe jungle environment, and maybe this one will drop on to your wrist if you hold a slice of orange. But is it rotten enough for its preference?

Press sees hidden trays

After the introduction of the Peale book curator David Grimaldi took a select group of the press to the museum’s upper floors where corridors of white painted metal file cabinets and their trays bring order to the two and a half million lepidoptra specimens the museum has so far accumulated.

One case of maybe one hundred thousand or two?

Grimadli holds a drawer aloft for the assembled newshounds who crowd the narrow passageway between the long corridors of white metal cabinets that hold drawer after drawer of neatly pinned lepidoptra, all two and a half million of them.

The butterflies are regimented in death in a way that seems entirely the opposite of the freedom to flutter every which way which they enjoy in their brief life.

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Met Brings Huge John Singer Sargent Show Over, With Striking Theme

Revealing How Creatively He Portrayed Famous Friends

Endless Display of Genius Stimulated by Personal Admiration

Freedom to Invent After Abandoning Formality

If you appreciate the finest painting from the past and are stuck in Manhattan over the July 4 weekend, consider yourself blessed. Walk over to the Metropolitan Museum and view the outstanding show it will offer the public for three months from tomorrow (Tue Jun 30 to October 4 2015) of the great turn of the 20th Century portraitist John Singer Sargent, which it has brought over from the National Portrait Gallery in London and topped off with with some additional works.

This Sargent sketch in charcoal of W B Yeats, recognized as Ireland's finest poet at the age of forty, shows all the inspiration that Sargent found in his friends among distinguished contemporaries in the arts.  The Met show has a huge abundance of examples in its new show Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

This Sargent sketch in charcoal of W B Yeats, recognized as Ireland’s finest poet at the age of forty, shows all the inspiration that Sargent found in his friends among distinguished contemporaries in the arts. The Met show has a huge abundance of examples in its new show Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

Singer’s shining talent in portraiture was fully developed from the start of his career but this exhibition has a striking theme – it shows vividly how much inspiration Sargent (1856-1925) found in portraying his friends from the theater, art, music and literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, many of them equal in stature to Sargent himself.

The very fine portrait of Henry James with its penetrating gaze and vivid presence reflects the long friendship and mutual admiration between artist and subject

Above for example is his charcoal sketch of Yeats, a good looking forty year old in 1908, done six years after Sargent gave up painting formal portraits of stuffed shirt ladies and gentlemen as too confining. Yeats was pleased with the dashing air of the sketch, which was used for the frontispiece of his first volume of Collected Poems that year, and noted that Sargent was “very good company”.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood was sketched in 1885 but kept and treasured by Sargent all his life, possibly reflecting the truth that it is a self-portrait in part, as many of his studies of friends who were artists share that character.

Many of the paintings are partly self portraits in spirit which refer to Sargent’s own methods and approach.

An Artist in His Studio (Ambrogio Raffele) shows the various stages of work on a finished painting.

Sargent’s self portrait is reckoned as more buttoned up and less revealing of himself than his pictures of other artists and musicians (Sargent was reportedly a concert-level amateur pianist.)

Sargent’s Self Portrait of 1906, at the age of fifty, is said to be less revealing that the studies he did of his celebrated friends among actors, writers and musicians of his time.

Every work in this historic assemblage reminds us just how extraordinarily gifted was this chronicler of major Victorian and Edwardian contemporaries, and the experience of walking into the vast main gallery that starts the exhibition off with his earlier portraits in the grand manner is a little like walking into the anterooms of heaven.

Garden Study of the Vickers Children John Singer Sargent (American, Florence 1856 – 1925 London) Garden Study of the Vickers Children, 1884 Oil on canvas 54 – 3/16 × 36 in. (137.6 × 91.4 cm) Flint Institute of Arts

The show offers a chance to contemplate the beauty of his Portrait of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1884), a daring and sensual masterpiece which so scandalized the Parisian bourgeoisie at the 1884 Salon with its plunging neckline, white-powdered skin, and off-the-shoulder dress strap that French commissions dried up (even though he put back the strap) and Sargent moved to London. The magnificent work occupied pride of place in his studio until Gautreau’s death in 1916 when he sold it to the Metropolitan.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) shocked the Paris provincials in 1884 but has long been recognized as “the precise image of a modern woman scrupulously drawn by a painter who is a master of his art”, as Judith Gautier, Sargent’s fellow Parisienne poet and novelist put it. (Click the image more than once to examine it in detail).

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