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Looking West on 42nd Street, NYC

Happy February! The shortest yet longest month kicks off today with a vast nor’easter blanketing new York City in snow. Although it is rather unpleasant to navigate the mountainous drifts and hidden rivers of slush, snowstorms aesthetically suit the city. The translucency of the snow (which grows more opaque with distance) makes evident how enormous the skyscrapers of Manhattan are. Additionally, the monochromatic winter hues suit the austere grays and blacks of New York.

Grand Central with some mysterious new monster building behind it

All of this is a long way of saying I took some candid pictures of 42nd Street with my cellphone today and I am posting them instead of a thoughtful essay. Perhaps the famous place I work can do some of the heavy lifting today instead of me.

Grand Central from my office window

Look at how pretty Grand Central and the Chrysler building are! If we are not going to build giant teapots and huge pairs of pants, can we at least go back to building giant buildings like that please? I am sorry I cut off the statue of Mercury of the Grand Central picture directly above. Maybe I will try again when there is not a giant cloud of snow blowing into me! In the mean time be safe. We will get through this winter some day. If past posts are to be believed, it is only a month until the hellebores start budding (and you had better believe I planted some spring tulips which are sleeping beneath the mountains of white).

The Chrysler Building in the snow

Yesterday’s deplorable rampage at the United States Capitol has left me thinking about Washington D.C. which used to be the city I knew best (I went to high school in Falls Church, VA, which is inside the beltway). Outside of the famous federal district at the city’s heart, Washington in the 1990s was a dangerous place! Murders spiked there in 1991, when there were 482 murders within a city of 600,000 people. Since those days, the USA’s power and prestige has declined, but Washington has burgeoned. Now the federal part of DC around the capitol is apparently filled with armed lunatics in crazy clothes and Columbia Heights is a thriving posh neighborhood! (it was quite the opposite 30 years ago).

I only went to the Capitol on school field trips or when relatives were in town, however, I used to know the museums, the Library of Congress, and Union Station very well. I hadn’t thought too much about all of this for years (except for the Smithsonian, which I think about often). However, yesterday’s debacle made me reflect upon the Victorian/Greco-Roman splendor of the Capitol itself and suddenly I remembered the United States Botanic Garden, which is tucked away on the Capitol’s Southwest Corner! The garden has been there, in one form or another, since 1820. The centerpiece of the garden is a Victorian style glass house where various rare tropical plants from the Wilkes expedition were originally housed (and which has featured beautiful collections of warm-temperature plants ever since). When I was younger I used to go there and marvel at the sumptuous tropical luxury combined with 19th century visual opulence. The resultant mixture is difficult to describe but entirely in keeping with the aesthetic of the Capitol complex. (Additionally, Grandma Connie loved the Botanic Garden and would sometimes enthuse about it as one of Washington DC’s true treasures).

A model of the U.S. Capitol…inside the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory

I was trying to write a garden essay to try and get us through this anxious fortnight until January 20th. However that hasn’t quite happened. I suppose this somewhat maundering essay is a paean to Washington DC, always a city of perplexing & vertiginous juxtapositions. Seeing Donald Trump’s brownshirts and proudboys looting the Capitol like Visigoths was a private emotional injury to add to the grotesque civic affront of Trump’s electoral assault. Perhaps there is a metaphor there: the Capitol (and its surrounding complex) are the home of American democracy. Use of these buildings (and the franchise they represent) is a shared responsibility and privilege for all Americans. To see the Capitol abused by fascists hellbent on overturning our democracy for the personal and private benefit of their godking (the ludicrous Donald Trump!) is a shared national trauma. We can and will refurbish and reopen everything, but we have some regrowing (and some weeding) we need to tend to!

“Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating”

It is mid-December and that means that it is time for Pantone to announce the color of the year for 2021 (on the outside chance that the longed-for new year ever actually arrives).  Through some sort of dark chromomancy, the Pantone high counsel of color wizards usually manages to correctly predict the trends of the coming year with their selections (for 2020 they presciently selected depression-colored blue).  After this epic disaster of a year (when the world was ravaged by a plague and the nation came an electoral inch from re-electing an evil fascist criminal) it is frightening to see what hue the oracles have chosen to represent our shared destiny.

Andddd…to be honest, the outlook does not look so great.  As in 2016, Pantone has cast a vote for transition, change, and uncertainty by naming two colors of the year. However, whereas the colors of 2016 (baby blue and pink) were at least pretty, for 2021 they have chosen the leaden hue of wet concrete and the vivid yellow of “checks cashed” & “liquor” signs.  It looks like driving through South Chicago in 1993! The colors’ proper trade names are “Illuminating” for the bright yellow and “Ultimate Gray” for the dark cold gray.

Good times…

Pantone chooses dull, ugly, neutral colors when they project a downturn and bright, splashy colors when they are predicting boom times.  By choosing both they are throwing up their hands in bafflement (which makes perfect sense, since the world’s economic sages are likewise shrugging and anxiously pulling their collars). The blathering spokespeople who have to spin this stuff into sales copy are talking about “light at the end of the tunnel” and “uplifting, smiley face yellow”, but I think the residents of East Flatbush can recognize down-and-out colors from shared urban experience.

The Colors of the Year for 2020 & 2021…and 2002 there on the letters, I guess

From Ferrebeekeeper’s perspective, there is indeed a hint of better times in these colors.  Bright yellow and wet concrete are not just the colors of the inner city shopping district, they are colors for building!  When you look at a new highway or a new airport, it is all “Illuminating” and “Ultimate Gray”!  Caterpillar paints its bulldozers, backhoes, road-graders, and cement mixers high-vis yellow for safety reasons (speaking of which, a season of safety would be nothing to sneeze at).  Brand new concrete is…the color of wet concrete.  Perhaps the color oracles are indicating that America and the world can indeed move forward, but only if we stop bickering, denying, and doting on cowardly con-artists and start building.

In fact I am writing sarcastically, as fits this publicity stunt non-event, but bright yellow really truly is a beautiful color on a yellow tang, a golden oriole, an autumn cherry tree, Oshun’s dress, or even a good number 2 pencil. All of which is to say: the 2021 color of the year is more of a choose-your-own affair than usual (and we are already talking about colors, any of which take on the meaning you ascribe to them).  Can we work together and dream and plan and rebuild?  Or are we going to spend the year blaming those other people for our problems as we walk down the gray boulevard of broken dreams to cash our sad tiny check before heading into the Dollar General?

Hey! Has anyone checked the Pantone people’s bank accounts to see if they just received a suspiciously large number of crumpled dollar bills?

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

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