Grey is Not the Color of the Balkans | Sofia, Bulgaria

One of my favorite places to walk through in Sofia is the staircase that links Dondukov Boulevard to Moskovska Street, which starts right after Budapest Street stops in a dead end.

The two flights of stairs are a convenient shortcut for pedestrians, but whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I always make it a point to go and climb them even if they’re a bit out of my way, just for fun. There’s something whimsical, quite unusual and surprising about this open-air staircase right in the middle of the city, surrounded by greenery (or dried foliage, depending on the season) and built into the slope that separates the two streets – to me the stairs seem kind of like Harry Potter‘s Platform 9¾ and whenever I climb them, I half expect to come up not to one of Sofia’s central streets, but into some fairytale world. Once, I even saw a baby hedgehog on the landing between the two flights, as if it had fallen out of some Brothers Grimm story and ended up on the landing.

I was in the area recently, after having spent a few months away from Sofia, and decided to go by the stairs. This time, they looked even more whimsical than usual, as I found them painted in all the colors of the rainbow. When I got up to the landing between the two flights, I noticed a stencil that read, “Grey is Not the Color of the Balkans.” The colorful intervention apparently dates back to the beginning of September and was done to show solidarity with the “quiet protest” and wave of stairways-painting in Istanbul (where, unlike Sofia, such pedestrian stairways don’t seem to be a rarity) and the rest of Turkey. Also unlike Istanbul, it seems that the Sofia Municipality didn’t bother to paint the stairway back to grey – a feat worth celebrating, especially considering its proven record of speedily wiping away all traces of such colorful (and political) transformations of public space. So, although it’s a little faded by now, the rainbow is still there today. To me, it was a good reminder of a year marked by protests, not just in Bulgaria but in many other places around the world, as well as a welcome burst of color on a drab and grey January day.

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I ♥ NYC

I – FINALLY (yaaaay!) – got to go back to New York and spend several days there this past June, after some significant pining, initially induced by ending up on a New York City street film set on the outskirts of Sofia, followed by photos of actual New York City grounds, sent in by my fortunate friends Silvia and Slavka, who went there in the past year and a general, pretty consistent desire to go there.

In the whirlwind of those precious and way too few and short days (and nights) I spent there, which were packed with running around, hanging out with friends and the festivities around one of the loveliest weddings I’ve ever been to (and the pleasure of seeing a very dear and old friend of mine tie the knot), I – not surprisingly – didn’t have time to go to any of the spots I had on my on-going “places to see and photograph next time I’m in New York” list – like this, this, this and this. So, these are four places that I unfortunately didn’t get to.

But fret not, as other cool grounds were stepped on (and skies were marveled at) and documented. I’m finally getting around to posting them and, as I do, you’ll find links to them below (because of my uptight tendencies, the posts will be dated to the actual time I was there and will therefore disappear in the archives).

In the meantime, here are just a few photos to tide you over.

I just realized that the photos – whether as words or images, are quite illustrative and descriptive of New York as a whole: electric, crossing all kinds of lines, profane, and dreamy. That, of course, is totally intentional, because I’m thoughtful like that. As is having a leaf in three out of the four pictures – just to nicely tie things together, you know.

Anyways, here are the other posts and photos from New York, as they are published, with the latest on top. Enjoy!

Canyon of Heroes

Subway map floating on a NYC sidewalk

Things were different back in 1626

Folly on Foley Square

What’s in a name

Canyon of Heroes | New York, USA

Even though I keep an on-going lists of grounds I want to see, photograph and write about, I am rarely so organized when it comes to carrying out those plans. More frequently, what tends to happen is this: I simply stumble upon grounds that look interesting, take photos of them, even though I have no idea what it is that I’m standing on (unless it is self-explanatory) and only later, as I sit down to write about it and do some research, do I find out its meaning and significance and, usually, kick myself for not knowing about it beforehand, as to have taken better and more informed photos.

That is what happened as I waited to meet my friend Maria on the corner of Fulton and Broadway in the Financial District. As I leaned against the fence of the Saint Paul Chapel, I noticed some black granite strips with inscriptions along the sidewalk. Since I didn’t have time to look at them carefully and didn’t want to stray too far from our meeting spot, I just quickly snapped some photos of the ones around me and could not, for the life of me, figure out what those dates and names meant.

It turns out that there are more than 200 of those inscriptions along the Canyon of Heroes – the section of lower Broadway, where the city’s ticker-tape parades traditionally proceed, in which shredded paper (originally actual ticker tape, but now mostly confetti) is thrown from nearby office buildings onto the parade route, creating a snowstorm-like flurry.

Traditionally advancing northward from Bowling Green to City Hall Park, ticker-tape parades have been taking place in New York City since the 1880’s, in celebration of all kinds of events and in honor of the personalities behind them.The inscriptions on the black granite strips list honorees – mostly people and sometime events, of past ticker-tape parades and their dates – from war and sports victories, through national and foreign dignitaries’ visits, to sea rescues, a flight over the North Pole and various other landmark flights, to space missions and expeditions to Antarctica. The first (impromptu) ticker-tape parade took place on October 28, 1886 to commemorate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, while the most recent one (very much planned, I imagine) took place on February 7, 2012, in celebration of the New York Giants’ win of the Super Bowl XLVI.

The full list represents a kind of compact and skewed modern history of the world and sheds light into the ever-changing tastes of New Yorkers, when it comes to what and whom to celebrate. Looking at it, I see many that I wish had known about and taken pictures of:

  • June 18, 1910: Theodore Roosevelt, following return from his African safari;
  • April/May ??, 1921: Albert Einstein (the only scientist to ever receive a ticker tape parade tribute);
  • August 27, 1926: Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim the English Channel and September 10, 1926: Amelia Gade Corson, first mother and second woman to swim the English Channel;
  • October 18, 1926: Queen Marie of Romania;
  • After 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens following winning four gold medals in Nazi Germany;
  • November 18, 1947: U.S.-to-Europe “Friendship Train” bearing gifts and supplies;
  • September 17, 1949: Forty-eight European journalists on “American discovery” flight around United States;
  • November 13, 1951: Women of the armed forces;
  • May 20, 1958: Van Cliburn, winner of the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition (the only musician to ever receive a ticker tape parade tribute);
  • January 10, 1969: Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, following the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon and August 13, 1969: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, following Apollo 11 mission to the Moon;
  • October 3, 1979: Pope John Paul II;
  • January 30, 1981: American hostages released from Iran;
  • June 20, 1990: Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

Subway map floating on a NYC sidewalk | New York, USA

For a short description of what this is, click and zoom in on the photo.

A longer, and quite interesting explanation, is published here. A short excerpt from that text reads:

The origin of the “human rights in the subways” project was [Françoise Schein’s] first urban map entitled Subway Map Floating on a NY Sidewalk completed in 1985. The relationship between underground trains and the rights of man is explained on the INSCRIRE website: “For her [Schein], the subway appeared to be the most democratic place into which engrave philosophical concepts to address to the people”. Subway Map was awarded the New York City Design Commission’s Award for Excellence in Design, although the project is rather ungraciously listed under street furniture on the Commission’s website.

Leftist tendencies, part 2 | London, England

Recently, I wrote about the negative connotations of the word ‘left’ and how the French word gauche (‘left’) is adopted into English to mean clumsy, awkward, maladroit, ungainly, gawky and unhandy.

Today, I received a series of pictures from my insanely funny friends Slavka and Austin in London, in which they not only stand over one of the city’s ubiquitous crossing signs, but also manage to perfectly illustrate this latter meaning of the word.

Raining cats and dogs | Toulouse, France

It rained the proverbial cats and dogs in Toulouse, but in fact the only thing falling from the clouds was – disappointingly, although rather not surprisingly, water drops. The skies did not open up to shower us, as advertised,…

… with neither a rainfall of candy…

… nor of birds.

Now that I think about it, though, a possible explanation for my disappointment may be that I simply didn’t stand in the indicated spots long enough to witness the promised candy or birds falling from the sky. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been the first time that happened.