Wednesday, August 16, 2006
By Maureen Seaberg
I know what you've heard about Staten Island - I've heard it, too - from the L.A. publicist who told me "there's no there there" to the tourists from Madrid who saw me reading the papers on the ferry one day and declared me "como la esposa de Antonio Banderas" (like Melanie Griffith) - a real-life Working Girl. They never guessed I not only read them but help write them nor that a Staten Island woman may have once lived in Madrid and understood them perfectly.
There's a grain of truth to every stereotype you've heard - (insert stereotype here so I don't have to perpetuate them myself). But increasingly, there's a newer, more interesting Staten Island emerging as immigrants from every quarter find our green spaces, historic architecture and relatively good schools a draw. We've got mango lassi on Staten Island now and how are you going to keep them down at the Mall after they've tasted that?
I'm a native - God help me. But I'm not one of "those" people - and you know who I mean - the ones who call the Verrazano Bridge "the guinea gangplank" and who lament the fact that Staten Island hasn't remained farmland. I've never known a Staten Island without that amazing span completed by the genius of a Swedish immigrant named Othmar Amann. One of my parents' first dates was to cross it. I've never known Staten Island was NOT diverse, having grown up next to a Syrian-Nicaraguan family in Castleton Corners....
Not only does Staten Island have a bright future - it has a vibrant past. We have legacies that rival any of the other boroughs. It is shameful that more people, for example, know that Mafia Godfather Paul Castellano once lived in Dongan Hills and don't know that a good American-Italian, Leon Panetta, once lived on Ward Hill.
How many people know that Anna Leonowens landed here after learning from the King in the Court of Siam and ran a private school? Or that Mexican General Santa Ana holed up here after The Alamo? Other famous figures include revolutionaries Gorki, Kossuth and Garibaldi. This is where the Vanderbilts played during the Age of Innocence and where Bobby Darin and the family of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy summered in the 1950s.
Country legend Roy Clark told me he got his start playing aboard the Staten Island Ferry while his dad worked the old B & O Railroad. George Burns also practiced his vaudeville act aboard the floating orange boat with its captive audience.
Martin Sheen told me that he worked in the St. George Car Wash before theater legend Joe Papp (buried in Baron Hirsch Cemetery) gave him his break. Eric Bogosian, Meryl Streep, Sheen and others would return this borough to bury him. While living here, Sheen said his son, Emilio Estevez, was born on the living room floor of their apartment in the Ambassador building in St. George.
Chris Noth ("Mr. Big") said he lied about his age and went to work at the Willowbrook State School at 15. He still has nightmares about the horrible conditions there. Walter Cronkite said that he used to love to put his yacht in at Great Kills Harbor. Donald Trump did his own apprenticeship here in the borough, shadowing his dad, Fred Trump, around the Grymes Hill and New Dorp properties they once owned.
Dentist John Lavinio can tell you about the recent day King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia showed up for care at his South Shore office. Movie producer Julius Nasso talks about hosting everyone from Dodi Fayed, to Steven Seagal, Kelly LeBrock and Gianni Versace here. Mandolin Brothers on Forest Avenue has served two of four Beatles in their amazing music sales and repairs business. Dr. Gil Lederman treated not only George Harrison but Kennedy cousin Anthony Radziwill here and hosts parties that include Dan Meridor of the Israeli Knesset and Golda Maier's grandson.
Staten Island has an image problem - and like many cities around the nation, it actually needs a public relations specialist to get the word out about the many positives of life here - and the many interesting people who continue to pass through. It also needs many writers from many perspectives actively observing and documenting it, warts and all, so that progress may be achieved. Blog on!
Ms. Seaberg, of Ward Hill, has done work for the Daily News, the New York Times and ESPN the Magazine. She was a researcher and source for the upcoming JFK Jr. biography by C. David Heymann, "Triumph and Tragedy" due out July 2007 (Simon & Schuster). She is the former editor-in-chief of http://www.virtualindia.com/
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Late in the spring, this pair of cardinals (bright red male, top, and dusty-rose colored female, bottom) took up residence in the tree in front of our house. I snapped these pictures one morning out the front window of our bedroom after I learned to whistle their call convincingly enough to get their attention. In the photos, they have their heads cocked towards me in recognition. What do they ask in return for this adorable entertainment? Lots of birdseed and the occasional walnut.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Cynthia von Buhler, author of "The Cat Who Wouldn't Come Inside," will be appearing at the Staten Island Barnes & Noble Bookstore for a book signing and storytime event. Wednesday, October 4th, 2006 at 7PM. Barnes & Noble, 2245 Richmond Avenue, Staten Island, 10314, 718-982-6983.
View the elaborate website for this book.
Visit the author's blog to get up-to-date news and appearances.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Forget Alaska, there's a new destination for extreme travellers looking for a mix of David Lynchesque surrealism and undiscovered territory without the jet lag: Staten Island. The Times's own Andy Newman took a week-long hike around the circumference of the island and tells the tale in today's Sunday paper. Don't have time to read the article? Watch the video instead.
Although we thought Newman ran across more rural weirdness than we tend to encounter on most days, the article and its insights reinforced for us why we love it here. Check out the article and then say five times fast: "This is New York City. This is New York City. This is New York City..." Plus, the article made us feel a little better about our mosquito problem.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
One day, while walking around Staten Island, about a year ago, a very familiar looking stranger approached me and said "Cindy? It's Timothy, Timothy Mutzel." I couldn't place him (and nobody calls me Cindy anymore) then I remembered him from our art school days in Boston. Timothy moved to New York City ten years ago, five years before me. He now lives in Saint George on Staten Island and I'm pleased to announce his exhibit of paintings at my gallery in Manhattan, CVB Space. Fellow Staten Islanders should take the ferry on over to Manhattan in support of Timothy, and his exceptional paintings.
MAKING SENSE OF THE UNIVERSE
Paintings by Timothy Mutzel
"semialuminous and kettle-bottom the cake, the cherished cake, was gone. 'my only comfort,' dock spike she said biestings to levering knive obscurum per obscurius unchildlike." -Russian Spammer, 2005
Hours: Wed-Sat 1-6
Opening Reception: Thurs. August 3rd 6-9pm
EXTENDED THROUGH UNTIL SEPTEMBER 10TH
CLOSING RECEPTION: THURSDAY, SEPT 7TH, 6-9PM
407 West 13th Street (B'twn. 9th Ave. and Washington St.)
Subway: A, C, E, and L to 14th Street at 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014