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Archive for April, 2010

Day 108: Euros

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Ireland, I went to the bank to convert US dollars into Euros.  The exchange rate was 1.425 and I avoided any additional fees since I made the transaction at my bank.  In essence, I exchanged $400 for €280.

The Euro is the currency of the European Union (EU) and was officially adopted on December 16, 1995.  The currency was then introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency on January 1, 1999, with Euro coins and banknotes entering circulation three years later on January 1, 2002.

The symbol of the Euro was designed by Belgian Alain Billiet and the story behind the design (according to the European Commission) is the following: “Inspiration for the € symbol itself came from the Greek epsilon (Є) – a reference to the cradle of European civilization – and the first letter of the word Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to ‘certify’ the stability of the euro.”

I was personally introduced to the Euro in the currency’s inaugural year since it coincided with my semester abroad.  Back in January of ’02 it was trading much lower than it is currently – the exchange rate hovered around .86; this meant that for the “same” $400, I received €465.

I love the strategy behind consolidating the currencies across Europe into one, but have some issues with the execution.  It’s of my xenophobic opinion that they rely too heavily on coins – the smallest bill is a €5 note, so change smaller than that is issued in €1 and €2 coins.  I also find it a bit unsettling that the value of the note is directly correlated with the physical size of said note.

Euro Notes

Euro Notes – €5, €10, €20 and €50

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Day 107: Bowling

It’s become a bit of a tradition to spend the day with a ‘groom-to-be’ or ‘father-to-be’ on the day their significant other is being showered with gifts and surrounded by friends and family.  It can be as simple as playing a round of golf or drinking a couple beers to celebrate the afternoon.  While my sister-in-law Sarah was being thrown a baby shower, we kept my brother Jeremy busy.

Since the weather this time of the year tends to be volatile and unpredictable, we decided to shy away from a golf outing.  Instead, we partook in an activity that we don’t do very often: bowling.  And our scores certainly reflected this period of inactivity.

The group of five (me, older brother Jeremy, younger brother Kieran, brother-in-law Bryan and dad Vince) all had our ups and downs.  The most interesting part of bowling is that everyone has a completely different approach.  Kieran, for example, puts a PBA-esque spin on his ball; Bryan achieves as much airtime as most Olympic shot-putters; Jeremy keeps the ball on the ground the entire length of the lane; Vince uses body English to telepathically move his ball toward the desire target upon release.

It was a good time had by all and something we talked about doing again in the not-so-distant future.  But this “not-so-distant future” could mean five years.

Kieran Bowling

Kieran doing work with his unorthodox approach

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I admittedly know very little about art.  I’ve been to my fair share of galleries and museums across the US and Europe, but I have yet to really choose a genre that is my hands down favorite.  I prefer to look at each work of art individually and have a great deal of interest in the artist behind the piece.

I captured a photo of “street art” – an installation on 25th Street (between 3rd and Lexington) on the exterior of the Carlton Arms Hotel in Manhattan – because it really stood out to me.  The 2009 piece was created by Brooklyn-based mixed-media artist Damon Ginandes and is titled Ascendants.  According to Ginandes’ website, the 3D artwork is made from “concrete relief & acrylic on wood” and measures 8.5’x18’.

Ascendants by Damon Ginandes

Ascendants by Damon Ginandes

The following is a description of his art taken directly from his website…

The work of Damon Ginandes blurs the boundaries of the two and three dimensional through various techniques and materials.  Weaving the figurative with abstraction, seemingly flat lines and forms protrude and expand beyond the spaces in which they are formed.  Caught in this spatial ambiguity, his starkly silent, yet intensely present characters attempt to break free from their own confines, a physical manifestation of a desire to transcend the isolation of the self.

In sharp contrast to a culture in which individual meaning and identity are often defined by social networks and packaged narratives, Ginandes strips away context and external reference to create portraits of souls – ageless, anonymous, and solitary.  Despite an otherworldly appearance, their longing stares are truly human and provide a mute communication from which a distinct visual and psychological intimacy emerges.

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Day 105: Edwin Booth

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the name John Wilkes Booth.  He, of course, is infamous for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln back in 1865.  My dad suggested that I head down to Gramercy Park on the 145th anniversary of Lincoln’s death (April 15) to check out the old stomping grounds of another member of the theatrical Booth family.

The Gramercy Park area was home to John Wilkes’ older brother Edwin.  Edwin Thomas Booth (1833-1893) was a famous 19th century American actor – some theatre historians go as far as to call him the greatest American actor and Hamlet of the 19th century.  Edwin was also heavily involved in the business side of 19th century theatre, both owning and operating venues in the northeast.  Near the end of his life (in 1888), he founded the Players Club in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan, a club for actors and others associated with the arts, and dedicated his home to it.

My initial target for a photo on Day 105 was the Players Club.  Unfortunately, the angle of the sun and some repairs being done to the exterior made for a less than stellar photo.  My second option was to capture a photo of the statue of Edwin Booth – the centerpiece of the park.  I took a lap around the fenced-in park to find an open entrance and came up empty.

As it turns out, Gramercy Park is one of only two remaining private parks in NYC and only people residing around the park who pay an annual fee have a key.  So, in my attempt to turn lemons into lemonade, I incorporated the fence into my photo.

Statue of Edwin Booth

Statue of Edwin Booth through the fence of Gramercy Park

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The 69th Regiment Armory is located at 68 Lexington Avenue (runs from 25th to 26th Streets) in Midtown Manhattan.  The building was completed in 1906 and later declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.  It was first home to the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment in the early 20th century and continues to house the group.

Both the building and infantry have a ton of history, so I’ll start with some fun facts about the structure.  It has been home to the following events in its 100+ year history (all courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • Modern Art – The Armory housed the Armory Show in 1913, a watershed event where America was introduced to Modern Art.
  • Roller Derby – In late 1948 and early 1949, the Armory hosted at least 17 Roller Derby matches (including the first matches ever broadcast on television).
  • New York Knicks – The Armory hosted some New York Knicks home games from 1946–1960.
  • Counseling – After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Armory served as a counseling center for the victims and families.
  • Victoria’s Secret – In 2003 and 2009, the armory hosted The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

The 69th Infantry Regiment has an even more profound history.  It is a military unit from New York City and part of the New York Army National Guard that has been in operation since 1851.  A great deal of the history and tradition comes from the group’s Irish heritage, which stems from the time when the regiment was made entirely of Irish-Americans.  The group’s battle cry is no exception – “Faugh an Beallach” – which is Irish Gaelic for “Clear the Way.”

It’s commonly accepted that the group’s nickname – “The Fighting 69th” – was given to them by General Robert E. Lee.  And according to poet Joyce Kilmer (and via Wikipedia), this unit is also the original owner of “Fighting Irish” nickname, which the University of Notre Dame inherited via chaplains who served with the unit during the Civil War.  To continue the historical tie to their Irish heritage, New York City’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue has always been led by the Regiment and its Irish Wolfhounds.

I’d be remised not to at least mention the military engagements of “The Fighting 69th”: Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Global War on Terror.

The 69th Regiment Armory

The 69th Regiment Armory in Midtown Manhattan

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My heightened sense of observation led me to my photo for the day.  I looked up at the façade of a building and noticed something in the window.  It was an artificial limb – a fake leg to be specific.  I’m ceased to be amazed with what I see in New York City.

I would love to provide more of a back story on this photo, but I’m miffed myself.   The least I can do, however, is to share a list of some famous people who went through part of their life with a missing leg (or two):

  • Heather Mills –  the estranged wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney
  • Ted Kennedy, Jr. – the elder son of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy
  • Alex Zanardi – former Formula One driver
  • Ronan Tynan – former member of the Irish Tenors
  • Ron Santo – former 3B for the Chicago Cubs
Artificial Limb

Artificial Limb

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I got a lead from fellow blogger and colleague Brian Litvack on a great place for a photo.  He suggested that I head to the Ace Hotel on 29th Street between 5th and Broadway.  It’s a short walk from the office, so I made it a lunchtime mission.

Ace Hotel is a boutique hotel chain founded in Seattle, Washington by Alex Calderwood and three friends to offer an affordable hotel that would appeal to the creative class.  As such, Ace Hotels are now known for their “campy, bohemian aesthetic.”  The chain currently has four locations (Seattle, Portland, New York and Palm Springs), with the goal is to open a new Ace Hotel every one to two years.

Ace Hotel New York is a 12-story hotel that occupies the former Hotel Breslin, which was built in 1904.  The hotel boasts 260 rooms and offers rates that are cheap by Manhattan standards.  The modern feel is obvious as soon as you enter; the layout, furniture, décor and vibe are a hipster’s dream.  The lobby bar offers a unique scene that is a mix between a Starbucks and lounge bar.  It almost comes off as pretentious by trying so hard not to be pretentious.  Overall, though, it seemed like a great place to stay if you’re in NYC for pleasure.

I took a couple photos of the lobby, but they didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked.  Instead, I decided to share the photos I took around the entrance to the hotel.

Ace Hotel New York

Exterior of the Ace Hotel New York

Ace Hotel New York Entrance

Entrance to the Ace Hotel New York (taken from the inside)

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