Monday, January 23, 2006

Another fun Free Friday at the South Street Seaport

In my last post, I'd asked a semi-rhetorical question involving whether the educators at the South Street Seaport would let an unaccompanied grownup join in with their Family Fun: One Scratch at a Time kid-friendly scrimshaw activity - the answer was yes, absolutely, and I wasn't the only one, and as you can see here, I had FAR too much fun with it. Actually I didn't try to round up a gang to go this time 'cause I knew that was likely - it was one thing last month to try to gather my friends for an interesting lecture about rum and a rum-tasting, that's all fine & good but - "Hey, who wants to go do Family Fun tonight, it's Scrimshaw for Kids?"...well, somehow that was something I didn't see a lot of people having much fun with. Now me, I'm a compulsive doodler - I don't think I've ever owned a notebook that didn't end up with the margins completely filled with small but lively scribbles. This seal, or variations thereof, is a pretty standard one - I thought about trying to do an Adirondack (the doodles in the notebooks feature a lot of schooners in the summertime) but decided to stick with something easy, hence the seal.

I wasn't sure how "kid-friendly scrimshaw" would work, but it turned out to be a very clever, simple & inexpensive art project - the blanks were cut out of white plastic disposable plates, they had a variety of sharp tools that you'd use to scratch your design into the plastic (kid-friendly but requiring close supervision), then once you finish scratching out your drawing (which you could draw first in pencil), you'd scribble everywhere there were lines with what I think were oil pastels, then you took a paper towel & wiped off the plate - the paper took everything off the flat bits, the places you'd scratched would retain the color, and there you were. The docents who were supervising this were really wonderful with the kids - there was no "now you should draw a ship", although there was a good simple pattern available for drawing a square rigger, it was more "you should draw whatever you want to". The little girl sitting next to me came up with a marvelous little Chinese junk with a little fisherman in a little Chinese hat, while her more impetuous little brother dashed off a number of sea creatures - the kids did mostly seem to stick with nautical themes, but I'm sure scrimshaw rocketships or dinosaurs would have been praised just as warmly. The nautical themes were coming out though, because to prime the idea pump, the docents were encouraging people to go walk through the museum's "Soundings" exhibit first.

This was one of two small but lovely exhibits I had time to visit that evening. "Soundings" is a collection of some of the museum's best pieces; this included scrimshaw (I got the idea to do even as much crosshatching as I did from looking at the detail of some of those pieces - the ships in particular were incredible, every bit of rigging seemed to be there), carvings, and some incredible ship paintings. The one I found the most mesmerizing depicted a square-rigger being towed to her berth beneath the Brooklyn Bridge - the towboat is an early steam tugboat, and I think what I found so astounding about this was that the bridge is the same, the tugboat could have been any of the tugboats that I have visited in the Graveyard of Ships in the Arthur Kill - for that matter, the ship could have been one of the barques that are now nothing more than a still-proud bow, before the outline of a ship traced out in stubs of ribs, protruding from the water...that sort of thing just gives me shivers in the same way these lines from Walt Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry did when I read them at the Museum's Walt Whitman exhibit last month -

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women generations after me!

And I'm standing there going, like, "Yo, talkin' to me?". Seriously, though - ever read a poem that made you feel like the poet was speaking quite specifically to you (extremely eerie when he's been dead for years)? I felt like those lines were written for me - and the other people I know on the river - in a way that no other poem I've ever read was. Actually maybe that's not so presumptuous - maybe that's the whole point of the enduring quality of Whitman's poetry - the way it still speaks to ordinary people like me. Whatever the case, those lines got me where I live (and I think that quite coincidentally it was the same weekend that Pia and I went for a walk that took us right by the Fulton Ferry Landing - where they have lines from the very same poem cut into the railing).

ahem. Oh yes. The other exhibit resonated maybe even more - this one was called The End of the Waterfront; I knew it was there but I walked into a room that was full of large photographs of exactly the same piece of waterfront that I spend so much time in - circa 1970. The photographer's name is Shelly Seccombe; her website is here, and if you are a New York City resident with any interest in the Hudson River, I really recommend this - especially if you happen to be downtown, it's not a huge exhibit but, well, let's just say that those little midget pictures on her website are nice enough, but they don't do her stuff anything CLOSE to justice. Now of course the trick is that when I'm out with my camera, I need to keep taking my own pictures, the way I have been ever since my folks sent me the best toy ever & not start trying to make everything an imitation Shelley Seccombe (here, do you like this? there was water on the lens but there was still something I liked about this one -

There was also a performance by New York Packet, a local singing group that specializes, copying from that link, "working shanties, ballads, the Hudson Valley, immigration, African-American song, the Port of New York, inland waterways, Irish traditional song and the repertoire of New York's concert saloons and early vaudeville". They stuck to the saltier stuff for this one; it was fun, I love to sing but a dear friend of mine who's a really good singer put it very well one day when she diagnosed me with acute FOSA - Fear Of Singing Alone. However a concert like this one is well suited for a person of my inclinations - the sea chanteys were all work songs and everybody's supposed to sing along to keep in rhythm, so audience participation was not only encouraged but just about required. Actually we tried one summer to sing chanteys on the schooner while we raised sails but I for one couldn't do it, I'd get self-concious & start laughing to cover the nerves - plus we kinda go hell for leather when we raise, we want it to look as smooth as a seagull unfolding it's wings, and the chanteys were meant for sails a lot bigger & heavier with everybody yo, ho, hauling away steadily on the "yo, ho, haul away boys" bit. But with plenty of other people also singing away, I was comfortable enough to even play with trying to match the harmonies during the choruses (I used to sing alto in my choir days, harmonizing's fun when you get it right).

Anyways, another really enjoyable night there at the South Street Seaport (with the usual bonus of getting one Hawaiian-kine plate lunch from the L&L Drive Inn by the seaport for dinner (eternal gratitude to Mr. SeaLevel" for cluing me in to the fact that this even existed). Free Fridays, every month on the third Friday of the month - as the old saying goes, "Be there, or be someplace else!"

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