Thursday, April 28, 2011


People are standing, spread out. Some sit on wooden benches. Everyone seems to be in their own world, staring in front of them, playing a game on their phone. Some people are wearing head phones, that produce parts of music. All those different songs create a new sound in which some songs sometimes are better heard then others.

Then, a loud sound. Two lights that come closer. The sound of doors opening. The mass moves. All the different positions move to one and the same place, they mingle with others, passing characters in a life.

Speed takes over and gives a rhythm to the people. Together, they move to the left, to the right. Little movements, perfectly coordinated, at the same time. Every one holds on, some sit, others lean to doors or poles. But they share the rhythm. It seems uncontrolled, sudden.

Every one keeps staring. In front of them, or down, in books or phones. They try not to touch and move away when people get to close. But sometimes, with or without purpose, they touch. A foot touches a leg, a hand touches a back. Small signs of solidarity, of being part of a group. Confirmations of each others existence. Sometimes, looks cross. One nods, sometimes smiles.

When the doors open, the ritual repeats itself. Old passengers leave the group, new ones arrive and blend in with the rhythm of the speed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bike Lane War

Buying a bike, a couple of weeks ago, was accompanied by a lot of good advice of fellow bikers about cycling without a helmet and the urgency of good locks - which I answered with cynical looks. Don't tell a girl from Amsterdam about locks (although I must admit, my laziness has led to the use of a single lock without any problems so far), and especially don't tell them to wear a helmet. I'd rather be found dead. Over and over again, people told me I couldn't compare New York with that lovely little town called Amsterdam. No, here in the city of crime and lunatics, cycling is a life threatening experience that has to be taken seriously, just as one should do with safety and theft.

So far, I enjoy my helmet-less bike rides a lot. The craziness is far less crazy then I suspected, although I do pay a little more attention while paddle from Ave to Ave. But a wilderness? No. On the contrary: nothing beats feeling the wind in your hair while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan (be aware of the tourists!), or getting a coffee in Williamsburg without taking the train to get there.

While doing the last thing, I recently discovered a hidden history that was totally new to me.

To get to the hipster part of Williamsburg, where the nice cafe and restaurants are, I have to cycle from Bed-Stuy through the neighbourhood of the Hassidic Jews. Men with high black hats and ringlets, women with wigs, head scarfs, long skirts and similar jackets and children with the same ringlets and clothes from the eighteenth century. They're everywhere. On one of my walks, I felt out of place. I realized that my short skirt was ruining the streetscape, so I could imagine - with a little effort - that this not only made them ignore me completely while passing me, but that it also made them cross the street before encountering me at all. Cycling through that neighbourhood made me realize that their behavior was a hazard for my own safety, because their urgency of ignoring me led to dangerous situations in which they quickly tried to cross the street or run over me and my bike. I literally was their blind spot, as an outsider of their community.

I got very frustrated about religion, tolerance, superiority and more of the like. While rambling about this to a friend, she told me about the bike lane war that happened in 2009.

New York creates more and more bike lanes and bike routes, among which the Bedford bike lane, that crosses through Brooklyn and that safely brought me to the Williamsburg Bridge, cafes and yoga. The Hassidic community took it upon themselves to complain about this bike lane because of the dangers for safety and religion. The first because of their children that had to cross the lanes after departing the school busses, the latter because the dress code of the hipsters was conflicting their religious rules of not looking at uncovered skin. The Department of Transportation decided to remove the bike lane, but forgot about the hipsters, who repainted the lane in the night themselves and organized a Freedom Ride to enforce their dissatisfaction. A heavy snow storm prevented a topless bike ride through the neighbourhood, but could't stop the hipsters from cycling around with plastic breasts over their winter coats.
The result? A better and safe bike lane a few blocks away and a busy, often used and visible bike lane on Bedford. You would suspect that in a city like New York, the city of immigrants, different people choose to live together. If it's not possible here, then how can we have hope for all those other places of intolerance in this world?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011



There is a world of socks. Socks with a story and a character. They live in a world in which one sock is incomparable to the other. Because no sock is the same.
This world of socks is similar to our world. There is music, there is television, and of course, they are on Facebook and Myspace. And this sock world has a god. Whose name is Marty Allen. And who creates characters of ordinary socks. After which he films them, and composes music for them. And he sells their pictures, in frames that he bought in China. That have a description of the sock puppets personality. Portraits that will tell you a lot about the sock in the front.

Talking to Marty, at his stall on Union Square, is a challenge. He's a fast talker. Really fast. And he uses the words sock puppets several times per sentence. Anyway, these socks are his live. And they make his living.

It might have been the charm and energy of their creator or their great appearance, either way, I walked away with one of the portraits. Carefully wrapped in bubble wrap, because Marty wouldn't let me take them without it. He wanted to take care of them before they left his house.

My sock-portrait-adoption-friend chose Lillith Lollybottom, who gazed at him in a sensual and slightly drunk way. I had to chose between Plim and Zimmy Zambini. Plim looked cool, like a rock star, with hair that was blown to one side in a very nonchalant way. Zimmy on the other hand looked like she just saw a ghost, or maybe just herself in a mirror. Her hair stood straight up, her mouth was still open after a loud and scary scream. It felt like I had to save her.

Marty assured me: Zimmy is Plim and Ploms smart sister. Together, they are The Fabulous Flying Zambinis: a very famous acrobat family, whose parents were crushed by an elephant when the children were still small. The other circus artist took care of them and now they take care of each other. Zimmy is the virtuous sibling but as a tender soul.

The choice then was easily made. Plim could take care of himself. I choose Zimmy.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Once a year, thousands of empty notebooks travel the world. Where people are waiting impatiently until their new blank treasure arrives, so they can start poring their hart and soul in it. You could compare it to a diary. But where diaries, once they are filled with all the tears, sorrow and joy of previous times, are stored on a shelve or in a box, these notebooks are returned to sender. Their temporary owners fill them with writings, drawings, unique little art works and all the others things they want to share, and then return them to the Art Library in Brooklyn.

The Sketchbook Project: 2011

The Sketchbook Project is a collection of worlds. Of words, drawings, fabric, paint, stickers. Of sweet little angles who present beautiful sayings and one eyed monsters that stare at you in a cold way from the dark pages that produce them. Some notebooks burst with information and need to be tied together with rope and rubber bands, others are missing pages, leaving holes that create new forms.
Above all, it's a collection of love. Besides their different content and the different lives of their creators, all of them have put their love, time and energy in creating a unique little book. They have thought about it and have taken the effort to wrap their little world and send it back to Brooklyn.

And because of all those people, thousands of little books are traveling America. Standing next to each other, brotherly, waiting for other, unknown, people to select them from the shelves and explore them. Little books that move or impress their audience. Make people laugh, or fall quiet for a moment. To tell the story of their creators to strangers.