First Day on Site 01/06/2015

When they say Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious building there is no exaggeration. When they say it is crowded in the dry season there is no exaggeration. We drove past on our way to another part of the Angkor Archaeological Park where the WMF visitor center is located.

Preah Khan is smaller but still very impressive. It was interesting seeing in its full context a building I had read about repeatedly in the last few months. I was unsure of how much I would remember of the material I was given to read so it was a relief to me when I found that I did remember a good deal of it. I was able to recognize the iconography but the most pleasing to me was that I was able to tell the difference between the two types of stone that are used in the construction. I do not feel as confident in my technical knowledge as I am in my skill at visitor services and my understanding of public history. A large part of my interest in coming here this month was the opportunity to test my capacities both professionally and personally to see if I really am capable of taking on what I am so keen to do.

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Introduction to the City 01/05/2015

I was taken to breakfast by my supervisor to get a brief introduction to Siem Reap. It was what I was prepared to see: crowded, dusty, chaotic, and full of tourists. I have little interest in visiting what my supervisor referred to as “the infamous Pub Street” but we walked through it in the early morning as we made our way through the old colonial city center. There was a familiarity to so much of what I was seeing paired with elements utterly alien to my experience. The small shops, the slapdash signs, the people working and making their way through the streets: all of this seemed familiar to me. In all honesty, it felt like Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights or Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn. What was different was the languages, the customs, the people. The other difference is immigrants come to a new country and have to hustle. What I saw in Siem Reap was a lot of people hustling in their own home country.

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Sunday Best 01/04/2015

Too tired to take advantage of my extended layover I spent the afternoon in the airport at Phnom Penh. The drivers quickly stopped asking me if I needed a ride to the city when I politely resisted enough times. There was plenty of real business to be had from the other tourists getting off their planes. I was left to read my book and watch the people make their way.

Periodically large groups of Khmer would gather near the arrival gates. They stood quietly talking and looking anxiously towards the sunny walkway that led to the street. There were parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and small children. All neatly dressed. Their expressions would quickly turn to excitement when they saw their family member or good friend. They did not hug but the group would gather around smiling at their prodigal.

When I switched locations to the departure gates similar groups could be seen standing a vantage point where their loved ones could see them wave goodbye as the escalator took travelers to the planes. It was very touching to see the care that went into the departures and arrivals. It made me terribly homesick. Coming on this trip means I do not know when I will welcomed back by people of my own.

Of course, they won’t come to the airport to greet me. It is not our way. One person will take on that task and everyone else will be at home. There will be hugs and possibly some tears.

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Santa Cruz Historic District

Mural depicting the historic district in downtown Santa Cruz Continue reading

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Drought 08/13/2014

Here is beige and brown where there should be numerous shades of green. Here are stagnant pools of water where there should be a low, flowing summertime creek. Here is dust and mosquitoes and heat. Everyone keeps saying that it feels as if it all must break soon. A storm. A downpour. Something dramatic. Rain is not inevitable even if you desperately want it.

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(Not) Writing 08/12/2014

There is a part of my mind that is always writing something. Unfortunately, it rarely connects with the part of my mind that controls my hands. The amount of unfinished work or work that is never begun nags at me like a senseless woman on the street I cannot quite ignore. Muttering fragments and swearing at no one. My conversations are laced with her grim humor and odd insights but that makes them feel all the more insane and shallow to me. 

I have time to read but no will to write. The opportunity I have now, the time I have now, to produce nothing useful with it feels like a waste. 

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Time Spent

It has been almost a year since I wrote anything in this space. I am unsure if the time has been well spent.

Moving across the country.

Training in a new job.

Getting accustomed to living in the woods.


Taking refuge.

Writing fragments of fiction and poetry no one will read because they will never be finished.

Missing friends and family.

Staring at wild animals in their daily routines.

Thinking too much and producing too little.

The time has come to write more.


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Don’t Demolish It, Polish It – Part II.

A LIRR train pulls around a slight curve and intro an elevated platform.

“This is the train to… Penn Station”

When a large portion of your day is devoted to travel you will develop methods to manage your time. What you do depends on the transportation you use. Car drivers take favored routes. Subway riders can give themselves a portion of time but do not generally have a strict schedule because of the high frequency of service. Regional train riders need a strict regime. Being two minutes late for a train can make you a half hour to two hours late depending on the schedule. (Bus riders have to leave earlier than anyone because they face all the disadvantages of car drivers and regional train riders. They have to adhere to a schedule but they have no ability to take detours when something goes wrong.) Riding the train to New York City everyday means you have probably developed a couple of habits. Of course, riding the train to Penn Station creates its own peculiar demands but that is only one part of the relationship between the suburban commuter and the City.

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Don’t Demolish It, Polish It.

View of the 8th Avenue and 33rd Street Entrance to Penn Station

View of the 8th Avenue and 33rd Street Entrance to Penn Station

Madison Square Garden can be easy to love as a venue for other experiences but hard to love as a work of architecture. Penn Station is not lovable at all. As a regular commuter, I would argue that it does not have to be. It only needs to work. The gap between their value for users and their aesthetic qualities make these buildings easy targets for architectural critics. All you have to do is reproduce an edited quote from Vincent Scully, add some pictures of McKim, Mead and White’s masterpiece before it was covered in grime, find the most haphazard image of the New Jersey Transit waiting area during rush hour, and wait for everyone to agree in the Internet equivalent of a round of high fives. Recently, criticism of Madison Square Garden and Penn Station has been particularly strident and has taken, what I consider, an alarming direction.

The City Council voted in July to renew the permit to operate Madison Square Garden for 10 years. Given that the Dolans asked the permit be renewed in perpetuity, I agree with the vote itself. However, I do not agree with the motives behind it and the proposed changes the vote is supposed to enable. New York Times art and architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has criticized Penn Station in his columns for several years and asserted that improvements to it are impossible without “moving” Madison Square Garden. Municipal Art Society held a vision session to imagine possible replacements for the arena, the skyscraper, the layers of concourses, waiting areas, shops, and hallways that now greet regional rail commuters, subway riders, and Amtrak passengers. Spokespeople for the Regional Plan Association, various urban planners, and architects have asserted that it is Penn Station itself that blocks development of the neighborhood, the City, and the entire Tri-state area. Penn Station has problems but the current commentary on its improvement suffers from false premises, disingenuous assertions, misplaced priorities rooted in nostalgia, and misunderstandings of regional dynamics. Most egregiously, no one has the courage to say exactly what they mean. They are not advocating moving Madison Square Garden, they are advocating demolishing Madison Square Garden. The fact that they are advocating the demolition of a building, the significance of which they do not appreciate, as penance for the demolition of McKim Mead and White’s Penn Station does not strike any of these commentators as ironic or foolish.

This commentary also seems to be written by people who don’t use Penn Station the same way that thousands of people use it everyday. No one is writing from the perspective of New Jersey Transit or Long Island Railroad riders. Our sheer numbers are used to justify interventions that would do little to improve our commutes and insure our safety. Projects already underway that address our needs are either entirely ignored or incorrectly characterized. Images of Penn Station focus on the most cramped and crowded spaces and ignore the gradual improvements made to both the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit amenities and services. In the coming weeks, I will be taking on this commentary piece by piece. First by presenting the current station (in all its mediocrity) and explaining how it gets used on a daily basis. Then, describing Phase 1 of the Moynihan Station project, the persistent misrepresentation of its scope, and precisely how it will improve service for existing users. Later, I will be discussing the highly selective appropriation of historic preservation and urban design principles in the service of a grandiose agenda that has little to do with the modern forms of either discipline.

The destruction of McKim, Mead, and White’s Penn Station was a great loss for New York City and a great loss for architecture itself. The true sin was not that it was destroyed but that it was not maintained, appreciated, and used. Its true value was not discerned by the people tasked with its care. Right now, from my perspective, critics, organizers, politicians, and planners are demonstrating the same lack of discernment with regard to Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.

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New York History Unearthed at South Street Seaport

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