Jan 242013

If you live in New York or much of the United States, you’ve noticed the weather this week – temperatures (in Fahrenheit) down near single digits at night. Having to sleep in the living room of my small West Village apartment with its leaky windows (I’m having issues with the ceiling in my bedroom – long story) it’s been one of those pile-every-blanket-you-have-on-the-bed kind of weeks.

But temperatures now pale in comparison to what people endured in the 19th century. Ice regularly blocked the rivers, and ice bridges formed (or were built) by enterprising New Yorkers on a regular basis. It seems that a few individuals were even able to skate to work from Brooklyn. The Gothamist has some great images and accounts of the cold weather and its impact on a very different New York. There are stories of people getting stuck on ice floes as the ice bridges broke up and having to rescued by tug boats, and young boys who charged for use of their ladders to get down to river and back up on the other side (perhaps like the umbrella sellers of our own era that appear every time it rains).

But the absolute best story is the enterprising soul that built a tavern on the North River one winter and dispensed food and drink to those walking across. Honestly, if it’s so cold that you can walk across the Hudson River to Hoboken, you do need a place to stop for a bite to eat. With ferries not running and the tunnels to a yet-to-be-built Penn Station still a few decades away, you can visualize people having to drag their luggage across the ice to catch a train from the New Jersey side down to Philadelphia or beyond. I’m trying to imagine how a modern day 1010 Wins radio station with it’s every ten minute traffic and transit news would have described this.

But (local) weather and (global) climate are not the same so we still seem to be in an era of massive global warming. Yesterday, the news pointed to a new study that concluded that glaciers in the Andes have melted at an unprecedented rate since the 1970′s, receding from 30% to 50%. Regardless what you see as the cause, global warming is a reality. So don’t despair,  we’ll soon be back up to our  seasonal temperatures (if not warmer) and New York will seem downright balmy.

New York City Ice Bridge in 1871

New York City Ice Bridge in 1871

May 172012

A fascinating light show last weekend at the Tokyo Hotaru festival where Panasonic provided 100,000 solar powered LED lights to imitate fireflies floating down the Sumida River in the center of Tokyo. Lighting up on impact with water, the small lights (referred to as “Prayer Stars”) were later recovered downstream through the use of nets.

With all due respect to my many friends in Chicago, this surely beats dying the water of the Chicago river green on St. Patrick’s Day.  And as the technology becomes cheaper, smaller and more disposable, it becomes possible to undertake large-scale temporary projects like this. In a way, it is our effort to play with light just as people in the Middle Ages created their own narratives through sunlight and glass in the Gothic cathedrals. Theirs was more permanent, though the buildings had an ephemeral quality in the interplay of light and shadow. Our projects are entirely transitory, though they have an element of permanence in that they get recorded through digital photographs. Perhaps this is most appropriate for a digital world where everything solid seems capable of being transformed into the ephemeral and yet every digital activity leaves a trace that lingers long after the artifact has been dismantled (or deleted).

Two images below from the Creators Project website. From the ground, the Sumida river appears as ribbons of light trailing off into the distance; from the air, it is as if there is an electronic current coursing its way through downtown Tokyo. Enjoy.

tokyo hotaru festival - Sumida River


tokyo hotaru festival - Sumida River from above

Tokyo Hotaru Festival - Sumida River from above