Friday, July 18, 2008

(My) New York Family Research

Vinti Plot - HeadstoneVinti Plot Obscured by a Hosta
Sidewalk in Calvary 3 - Going to Bruno Plot Bruno Plot - Headstone<br />
Bruno Plot Location

I visited two cemeteries to see plots of great grandparents that I never knew, surnames: Vinti and Bruno. The two cemeteries are: St John Cemetery at 90-01 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village, New York (location) and Calvary Cemetery, 49-02 Laurel Hill Blvd, Woodside, New York (location). Both were accessible (with a few blocks of walking by subway/train from midtown). I did take a taxi from St. John to Calvary (too far to walk).

For any cemetery visit, stop at the main office first and save yourself time if you don’t know what you are looking for. I didn’t know where to even look so a stop at the office was necessary. I found out that a typical plot (marked with a headstone) that my great grandparents have are stacked 3 high (as in coffins). In both sets of relatives, there remains space since only a husband and wife are buried there. Who inherits the plot? All living descendants. At St John, the very helpful Polly explained the whole thing to me. Makes sense. I also filed for a maintenance request because of rampant hosta plant from a neighboring plot totally obscured my relatives.

The trick at Calvary is to figure out what part of Calvary you need to go to. There is Calvary 1, 2, 3, and 4. Parts 2-4 are close, but 1 (the oldest part) is a bit far from the other two parts. Part 1 is for old, old burials. Most likely you’ll be looking in Parts 2 - 4. The main office for Calvary is in Part 2 anyway. Apparently there are 3+ million people buried there.

One question that entered my mind when looking at the aerial photo of Queens is why are there so many cemeteries? Apparently, the area is called the Cemetery Belt and there is a good reason for it. It is because of the Rural Cemetery Act passed in 1847 in New York which commercialized the burial process.

Results: success on both accounts. Both plots were located and I spent some quality time with my great grandparents on a very hot New York summer afternoon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New York Public Library – Genealogy Section

Declaration of Independence Fact Sheet Eminent Domain Exhibition - At the New York Public Library
New York Public Library in NYC - Marble Lion (South, "Patience") NYC Library Lion 

We are impressed by the New York Public Library 5th Avenue. It’s the branch with the two famous lions out front. The marble lions are called Patience and Fortitude. Today, during our visit there are two exhibitions going on. The first exhibition is: Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City (May 2 – August 29, 2008). The second is a display of a number of landmark versions of the Declaration of Independence including an autographed manuscript prepared by Thomas Jefferson in the week following the 4th of July, 1776. His copy had underlined items that he noticed were missing from an early copy he submitted. Both exhibits are free and interesting.

The genealogy section of the New York Public Library is in Room 121. They have a variety of resources and computer access. We got a couple of leads but nothing specific to add to our existing family trees. But, if you are just starting off your genealogy quest, stop by and ask the librarians what you should be looking at. They have a handy handout sheet (below) that lists a number of resources. If even just to sit there and search the database with the free computers, it’s worth a stop in this room.

Final stop: the grand reading room. Magnificent.

NYC Library Genealogy Resources Page 1 NYC Library Genealogy Resources Page 2

NYC Library Genealogy Resources Page 3 NYC Library Genealogy Resources Page 4

Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55 - Album Cover 

The album 5:55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg is one of those albums that I keep wanting to listen to in an obsessive way that’s not always good. It happens every once in a while. It’s odd because when I first listened to this album I thought, oh it’s interesting and then put aside for a few weeks. Then I listened to it a second time and I was hooked. The combination of the music (by Air) and lyrics (by Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon) are perfect for Gainsbourg vocal style – a whisper. The standout tracks for me are 5:55, The Songs We Sing, Little Monsters, Jamais, Night-Time Intermission and Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping (on the bonus CD). The whole album though, holds together as a unit, it's just that I find the mentioned tracks are the ones I'm most often humming. They were the soundtrack for my New York City visit.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of the famous French musical provocateur Serge Gainsbourg.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Central Park

Boaters on the Big Lake in Central Park

Central Park is impressive. We had outdated impressions of a rundown, dangerous park that people avoided. That was not the case at all. It was well-maintained, safe, and was filled with all types of people enjoying the park in various ways. We were impressed by the size of it (840+ acres), the number of activities available, the various walking, running, and biking paths, and the overall appearance.

The land for the park was purchased in 1856 and the park was officially opened in 1876. Over 125 years later, the park looks great. Credit goes to the Central Park Conservancy who over the last 25 years halted the slide of the park in the 1970s and completely turned its fortunes around.

Especially interesting to us were the large rock outcroppings of Manhattan schist. The schist bedrock layer (also called Cambrian Manhattan Formation) provides a great base to build upon. Central Park is apparently a popular site for geology field trips because the Manhattan schist crops out in so many places making studying it easy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Metro-North Service From Grand Central to New Haven

Metro-North Brochure

I was curious to see how the Metro-North train service between Grand Central Terminal, New York City and New Haven, Connecticut would work. Overall, I was pleased with the experience. Pros: Economical way to travel, you can pay in a number of ways including on the train, very convenient to just leave or arrive in middle of New York City. Cons: the trains seemed a little dated and in need of a facelift inside and the travel time for just 73 miles was a bit over two hours which seems a little long.

I bought tickets at Grand Central a few minutes before the train left and was fine. On this Monday there were a lot of commuters going to work in Connecticut. However, there wasn’t a crunch on seating. Most got off in Stamford. The train arrived in New Haven a few minutes late but acceptable. More interesting would be if you wanted a connection to different city like Waterbury. The time for transfer is listed as 7 minutes and I think that’s cutting it a bit close.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Empire State Building

Empire State Building - Brochure
I went up the Empire State Building (ESB) on this beautiful and hot Sunday morning. It was quite an affair. First there was a snaking line with tour operators yelling at me trying to sell a tour package, then I got ESB staff yelling about security checks and buying their merchandise (this circular map they were touting – see photo). When I reached the ticket booth I had a menu of options to choose from. If you want the full meal deal (which I did) for one person, it’s $46. That includes access to 86th floor observation deck (open), the 102nd floor observation deck (small and enclosed, usually not crowded), the audio guide, and the circular map to help decipher the surrounding landmarks.

After buying my ticket, the line passed through different passage ways, through gift shops, past places to eat, a place where they take my picture (which I could buy later) and finally I got to the elevator (about 45 minutes after starting). Whew. The elevator only took us up to the 80th floor. At that point I could wait for a second elevator (slow) or walk up the six flights. I think they are revising the experience, so maybe I got an experience that is temporary. Whatever the case, it was a bit convoluted.

Finally, after reaching the 86th floor, I went outside. It was worth the obtuse path to the top. What a view. You can easily spend an hour or more marveling at the view.

When I was done with this floor, I took another elevator to reach the 102nd floor observation deck. To tell the truth the 102nd floor observation deck wasn’t really worth it. Stick with the 86th floor and save a little money. So you are a little higher on the 102nd floor, but looking through thick and not very clean windows wasn’t that interesting. The audio guide was worth it, but I like audio guides. The circular map? Depends if you are into maps. There are interpretive signs at every compass point and plenty of people around who will know what is what. (I am into maps, so I bought one but didn’t open it until days later.)

If you can’t see the ESB because of all the other buildings as you are walking toward it (and it can happen), the main entrance is on 5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets (location).

The Circular Map They Really Want You To Buy!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Milford Plaza Hotel, New York City

Milford Plaza Hotel taken from 8th Avenue

We stayed at the Milford Plaza Hotel for five nights . It was okay, average. It’s the first time I’ve stayed in New York, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. Travelmarx with a k has stayed in NYC before and said it was appropriately priced for what we got. Good points: location, friendly staff, free internet in our room. Bad points: small room for us, cheapo breakfast, elevators took forever to come (we were fine to descend 17 flights of stairs, but climbing them after a long day was a bit much). The hotel is supposedly under renovation. I’m hoping by the lacking state of our room that ours hadn't yet been renovated.

When we checked in they said that we were in a “club” room. Don’t know about you, but that conjured up an image of a nice room. Not an oversized closet with one (broken) chair and a bed and the need to shut the bathroom door to be able to leave the room or get in the closet. In a word: small. However, I guess this is par for hotels in NYC for the range we paid (~ $300/night, gasp, for a double).

The hotel is located just west of Times Square and is on a major subway line or a few minutes away from others.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Vinicio Capossela e Gianmaria Testa

Capossela - Che coss'e l'amor Capossela - si e spento il sole

A friend gave us compilations of two Italian singer-songwriters to listen to: Vinicio Capossela and Gianmaria Testa. Both are good and are definitely worth checking out. Capossela’s music makes me think of (and I’ll borrow from his web site’s biography) a “circus artist” – in a good way – with songs populated with “demons and ghosts.” There are hints of Luis Prima definitely. Travelmarx favorites: “Che coss’è l’amor?”(What is love) and “Si è spento il sole” (If the sun were turned off?).

Testa’s music is (at least to my American ears) a little more serene, intimate, introspective. However, it does share common elements with Capossela: bits of bossa nova, jazz, and is very lyric-driven. The last element is what always stands out for me for both artists and Italian artists in general, that is, how important words are to the song. Even if I don’t always understand the meaning of the words, the power of the voice, not electronically mangled as is fashion in modern songs, grabs you as, well, human. Travelmarx favorites: “Per Accompagnarti” (To go with you) and “Biancaluna” (White moon?). Some samples of Testa on YouTube. Testa’s instrumentation reminds me a bit of the group The Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Funky Cold Medina – Richest Puget Sound Zip Codes

Wealthiest ZIP Codes Puget Sound

The idea of looking through the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2008 Book of Lists (link) was to help me target places, gulp…, to work. Instead I got sidetracked on the list of Wealthiest ZIP Codes in the Puget Sound Area ranked by average household net worth. I guess I was expecting Seattle ZIP codes to be featured more prominently in the top 10, but that wasn’t the case. The top ZIP code is 98039, Medina (which always makes me think of Tone Loc’s Funky Col Medina – I don’t think this video was filmed Medina but I could be wrong). The only Seattle ZIP code in the top 10 comes in at number 10 and that is 98177 which is composed of the areas called Richmond Beach, Innis Arden, The Highlands, and Blue Ridge. To our friends in Blue Ridge: when is dinner?

The facts: the average 2006 household net worth in 98039 (with Bill Gates subtracted out of the mix!) was $1,232,108 and the average for 98177 was $831,959.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Washington State History Museum

Washington State History Museum - Railroad Exhibit 

We headed to Tacoma to have dinner with some friends and decided to first visit the Washington State History Museum. It is located near the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum with plenty of ways to get there (bike, bus, street car, car), parking, and places to eat in the neighborhood. We spent almost all of our time at a temporary exhibition called The West the Railroads Made open from April 12, 2008 to January 24, 2009.

One aspect of the exhibit that was of interest to us is how the American perception of the western landscape was changed over the course of last half of the 1800s. At first, the perception of the landscape was hostile and a wasteland in some places, then, in time the perception was transformed to one of a land of opportunity and paradise. The change in perception seems to have come about by several factors. The railroad companies played a part in changing perceptions because it benefited them. The United States War Department played a part for “postal, military, and other purposes,” and passing the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 making large land grants to various railroad companies. (So I guess our great, great, great grandparents paid for it all really.)

What we didn’t really appreciate until seeing this exhibition was the rapid series of events: the Oregon Treaty of 1846 gave us the modern day northwest and the Mexican Cession in 1848 gave us the modern day southwest. As noted above, the government surveys commenced a few years later. Another point of reference is that the Sutter’s Mill gold discovery was also in 1848.

The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 was based on work by government surveying teams that produced a respected, comprehensive series of surveys called the Pacific Railroad Surveys (1853-1855) trying to figure out the best route to the Pacific ocean. These surveys are available in the Library of Congress (search for 'pacific railroad surveys'). Some of the examples in the exhibit showed interesting drawings of landscapes and plants like the Pinus Ponderosa shown below.

At the back of the exhibit at the museum (and we think a permanent exhibit) is a recreation of about 91 miles of railroad track in Washington state circa 1950 – 1959. The large setup (see photo) recreates the route from the shores of Commencement Bay in Tacoma to the Cascade Mountains in Central Washington. The model was assembled by the Puget Sound Model Railroad Engineers (

Pacific Railroad Survey DrawingPacific Railroad Survey DrawingNeighborhood Around Washington State MuseumModel Railway in Washington State Museum

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

TravelMarx Music Recommendations

DuffyKatie Melua

Some music that reminds of our sabbatical (indulge us, will you?): Duffy’s Rockferry and Katie Melua’s Piece by Piece. The former was played on every popular Italian radio station, especially the songs Rockferry (video), Warwick Avenue (video), and Mercy (video). Duffy’s music is a style called (British) blue-eyed soul. Think Dusty Springfield (a legend) with less mascara. Try to not toe-tap to Duffy’s Mercy.

The second recommendation, Katie Melua, is something we heard while staying at Garni Delta and it stuck in my mind. Some standouts: the infectious (and a wee-bit sweet) Nine Million Bicycles (video) and Thank You Stars (video). My favorite though is I Cried For You. Melua’s style is world beat / adult contemporary. She is originally from Georgia (the country).

Yes, both of these artists are not Italian! The next music post will be about Italian music, we promise.