Holiday Market at Columbus Circle and Rockefeller Tree

The days are drawing to a close as we approach Christmas Eve. Yesterday I had the chance to experience yet another fancy shmancy market: The Columbus Circle Holiday Market right next to Central Park and close to the shopping mall. Caved in between two cross-overs, it is pretty decent in size and houses many vendors similar to its sister markets at Union Square and Bryant Park. I’ve seen the exact same vendors at all three markets, such as the turning disks which display rapidly changing insects on them.

Holiday Market Columbus Circle - 8

I’ve also gotten the impression that many more jewelry sellers are promoting their merchandise at Columbus Circle than elsewhere. Here I have come across really funky looking rings made of antique brass dating back to the 1940s and equipped with heads of medieval-looking queens. Judy Kaye offers more on her Web Site, in case you are interested.

Holiday Market Columbus Circle - 4

Then I’ve seen Luminite stones featured by Peaceful Presents who were offering a drawing to win an entire set of their lovely art. Of course I had to participate after snapping this lovely picture.

Holiday Market Columbus Circle - 3

There is an actual food court at this market and it looks more organized than elsewhere. People have the chance to eat a variety of different foods, observe their surroundings, and think about what they want to purchase next. Vendors come from different countries. Of course the German Delights stand cannot be amiss. I’ve also come across a French vendor offering oriental spices for cooking and decorating.

As a pre-holiday activity, I planned on checking out the Rockefeller Tree before all of those annoying numerous tourists get to block it on Christmas Day. My way over there was already eventful enough as I walked towards Fifth Avenue and ran across this forest of lit trees.

forest of lit trees

Then the glamorous Fifth Avenue with its displays at the Bergdorf Goodman (possibly one of the most expensive shops around). Hollister’s half-naked models portrayed in the windows (some things never change). A fountain of lights running down a façade.

Bergman Window Deco
Bergman Window Deco
Lit Facade
Lit Facade

And then of course the one and only Rockefeller Tree, already taken in by hordes and masses of tourists. I got as close as I could without having to risk a shove in the elbow or neck and then I made sure to get out of there as safely as possible. I really can’t imagine how I’ve enjoyed a Christmas Day stroll around this part of town after seeing what was going on yesterday. Another cute highlight are the red ornaments displayed on fountains a block over, which I’ve always come to love when I am in the area.

The one and only Rockefeller
The one and only Rockefeller
Cute ornaments a block over
Cute ornaments a block over

The beauty about celebrating the holidays in the City is not so much the actual day but the entire chaos going on weeks before. Macy’s decorations, tree lightings, and all nations imaginable streaming into Manhattan to get some shopping done. Oh yes, this will be yet another eventful Christmas in New York!

[For more pics on the Columbus Circle Holiday Market go to A Picture Every Day!]

Where to Buy and Rent Photography Equipment in New York

After completing my first photo course at the FIT (read more here), I have been in and out the photography stores of New York. I thought it would be a good time to share for other passionate (amateur) photographers visiting this city where to get the best stuff at a good price.

B&H, located on 34th St and 9th Avenue:

B&H

The store started out as a photo and video shop in the Lower East Side, where it was owned by a Hasidic Jew called Herman Schreiber. I am mentioning his religious orientation for two reasons: 1) I don’t want visitors from other countries to be freaked out by the Hasidic dress code and hair style dominating the store 2) due to Jewish Sabbath the store closes at 1 PM every Friday and remains closed until Sunday morning. If you are planning on shopping here on a Saturday, you will find yourself in front of locked doors.

The store in Midtown has developed from being solely a photography shop to offering many other products of the technologized world. Aside from camera and video gear, you can buy computers and other accessories here. In fact, when my laptop crashed in 2011 this store was my first option to go to.

Most recent additions of camera equipment purchased at B&H

I also happened to buy my first DSLR camera here less than a year back and am still flabbergasted at the low price I spent and the quality of images I am getting. I highly recommend their used/refurbished corner if you are looking to gain some experience in the photography industry and are still unsure on how many times you will use your gear. I have so far bought a few camera bags and also aforementioned camera here and have had no reason to return the items.

Over in the “new” section, the lens collection is extensive and there is always a helpful employee next to your side as soon as he sees the desperate look in your eyes. If you want to try out a few lenses before buying them, just stand in line for the lens section and have your camera ready. In case you don’t have a camera yet or forgot it, you can borrow one of theirs and shoot a few snapshots. I really like this feature of the store: You have so many options to try out different cameras, different equipment, but you can still exit the store without having to buy a single thing. B&H is a bustling hub at times and its fun just to walk from product to product without the slightest intention of purchasing anything. It offers a great array of point-and-shoots, so don’t feel obliged to become a DSLR addict.

Another great feature of B&H is that they offer free photography workshops throughout the week. Unfortunately, these have coincided with my working hours, but for tourists people who are more flexible these lectures and showings are a great way to take an extra step into the field.

Adorama, located on 18th Street between 6th and 5th Avenue

Adorama

It opened up in 1979, just 6 years after B&H, and is more focused on photography and video than anything else. As a heads up, it is owned by Orthodox Jews, so it would also be closed during Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. While I prefer buying my actual equipment at B&H I greatly appreciate the rental option Adorama offers. Last weekend I rented out a 100mm macrolens from Canon from Thursday evening to early Monday morning for as little as 25 dollars (tax included). Now if this is a not a deal for a lens that usually runs around a 1000 dollars, then I don’t know what is.

The only possible downside is that you need the equivalent of the lens’ worth on your bank account because it will be deducted for the time your lens is being rented. Since I heard the money can be put on a hold for up to 4 weeks, depending on which bank you have, I just gave them a cashier’s check for those three days I had the lens. If you pay with credit or debit card, be aware of the charge that may be taken out of it but if nothing goes wrong, you will certainly have it back.

Customer service varies in this store. I so far had only charming experiences except for one time when I was served by a rather saucy girl who didn’t want to deal with my questions on how to use the lens. I guess it’s not a good time to ask them in times of stress but I still prefer the B&H way of going about.

A 100mm macro lens from Canon I tried out over the past weekend…
… and shot this picture with!

Both stores have proven to be excellent sources for photography-interested crowds and I highly recommend checking them out when you are in the City and have some free time on your hands!

[For more pictures on macro photography go to:

A Picture Every Day: Save My Little Cupcake!

A Picture Every Day: Botanical Garden in Brooklyn: The Shakespeare Garden

A Picture Every Day: Botanical Garden in Brooklyn: Life on the Pond ]

NYC Craigslist Ads and Other Scam Stories

This seems like a lifetime ago, but last year around this time I was new to the City, eager to try out things I had never tried out anywhere else, and I saw opportunities to do so right here – where everything is possible!
I had already acquainted myself with Craigslist because of my roommate search. So I decided to give it another shot. Craigslist has a category called Talent and another named Event, in which they advertise for every possible ridiculous job out there: runway models, hair models, waiters for a catering event, artists, people with certain body types or of certain ethnic descent … Pretty much anything you could imagine and beyond. After scrolling down past the ad looking for foot fetish victims models and the ads wanting waitresses who serve drinks topless and are willing to be “nice to the guests” (uhm, so you’re looking for strippers, guy, strippers!), I stumbled across a few links that were looking for models, preferably “fresh faces.” If you’ve gotten to know me a bit, you know I do have the body type, possibly the looks to be the next Heidi Klum famous face on the screen. This half-jokingely said, I do not have any serious interest in pursuing any sort of career in the industry of starvation, shallowness, and forced young looks. And that is basically all it is, unless you are a designer, then you would have to deal with the issue of eccentricism on top of this. However, I have always been curious of how these notorious model castings work and what it takes to grab the agency’s intention.

I responded to a few ads with some outdated pictures of myself and, sure enough, the next day I received a call from a Model Counseling Agency. The word counseling purposefully disguising their intents, I dare say. They asked me to stop by at their office in Midtown, right on Park Avenue and 50th Street. For all of you who do not know, this is a splendid area: It is 3 blocks away from the Rockefeller Center and a bustling crowd of suit-people blends in with the under-dressed tourists and over-dressed divas.

I didn’t have any plans for that day, so I decided to come and see what I might be able to write about later. Around 3 PM I entered a huge lobby and waited a bit, until a 55-year-old woman, who was desperately trying to look like 50 by means of Botox & Co, came down and led me up to their “office” laid out in suite-sized rooms. I wasn’t the only one waiting. Two other girls were hiding what a nervous wreck they were. One was about two heads smaller than me, but nonetheless extremely beautiful. The other was a burlier type of female with a few strokes of make-up too many on her otherwise non-exciting face. I was confirmed in my initial impression that this is only a scam. After the short girl disappeared, I tried to start a conversation with Ms. Make-up Queen. She was nervously glancing around and didn’t seem like the type to socialize with what she thought was her competition.
Then a beautiful Islander-type of woman with a tall figure, no doubt a retired model herself, fetched me and led me into a room filled with a serious-looking desk and a few chairs. I seated myself and couldn’t wait to start the circus. She first explained what her firm was about, and basically it seemed like it was doing the same type of work a normal model agency would. I was even more confused by the term “counseling.” They seemed to have tons, no, an innumerable amount of photo shoots waiting for them and their hot models in the Tri-State-Area and Connecticut. Boy, was I lucky to have met them the same day, for we could start working together by the end of this week. Then she started to ask me basics, such as if I was able to work in the US, where I was from, how long I had been here… This was a tough part for me, as she constantly sweet-talked me in such a manipulative manner, I didn’t know how exactly to react. First it was my gorgeous cheek bones, which made her ask if I had any Russian heritage. Then it was my tall statue, which would make it easy to snag a job. And my short, sexy hair, that would just stand out (I had a bob cut back then). Well, her spider webs didn’t manage to lure me in, albeit I gave the best impression they had. And I had also learned to become immune to sweet-talk from an early time on, so my alarm bells were constantly ringing. I was just waiting for the one unfortunate thing about this entire conversation. And sure enough, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, she stopped to take a look at my pictures and noticed I didn’t have any. What a pity! But we would have to shoot those first before we progress further. She already confirmed that there was a photographer waiting downstairs and all I had to do is pay her $200 for a professional session. My, what a deal! I was about to laugh out loud, but kept my serious face. I explained to her that my bank had not yet been set up and that I did not have a German credit card. How unlucky. I definitely did not carry $200 in cash with me, either. So I would have to return another day. I think I was quite convincing. She led me out of the door, further flattering words followed, and then the other woman appeared again, asking if I was doing the photo shoot now. She looked disappointed when I said I wouldn’t today. Gotcha right there! I fled this building as fast as I could and just shook my head about how gullible people are in New York – I probably included.
When I told my roommate about this, she told me a similar story had happened to her in the artist industry, in which they had wanted $100 dollars for such a photo shoot. She congratulated me for getting out of that one and I did so myself, too.

There are a few other comical events I witnessed. In August, one month before fashion show, I responded to an ad by the FIT. It’s the Fashion Institue-Technology, located in Chelsea. They were looking for runway models for an upcoming show – unpaid, of course. I first had to sign in with a guard who couldn’t care less but still had to do his job. Then I entered a huge studio – there is indeed no doubt that this school likes to splurge is worth its money. Because of the name the E-mail had provided me with, I was expecting a male designer, so I was rather surprised to see a fragile woman sitting next to a chubby man. The man introduced himself as a manager, politely asked for my name, and then wanted me to “perform” straight from there. Some funky music was played (nothing really professional), and I walked up and down the studio, with both of them watching every move. I think I couldn’t disguise my smile because they noticed quite soon I wasn’t serious. Hey, if you want a model, you better make sure she has enough time to put her 10 inch high heels, on, is all I have to say. We shook hands and they had enough manners to wish me good-bye. The next model was waiting to perform: A transvestite-looking, heavy female who could offer a glorious portfolio of no doubt severely edited and cropped pictures. Poor guy girl!

Lastly, I had a fun experience with craigslist scams, believe it or not. In May of 2010 I responded to a model ad for a make-up school in Dumbo. At first I had trouble finding it, as it was housed in an abandoned industrial building – one of the many in that area. I walked into a tiny room filled with 4 girls and the instructor. I think I was the only model they had during that session. A nice young woman with a belly indicating her pregnancy tended my face for over an hour. She said she was travelling every day from the Bronx all the way down to Brooklyn, just to take classes in the best make-up school on the entire East Coast. Then, she brushed powder across my face, shadowed my eye lids, pinkened my lips … until the instructor noticed my white eye brow and insisted on “fixing it up” with some color. So ten tedious minutes were spent on this and when I looked into the mirror at the end I was taken aback … in horror! My eye brow looked patched together, my face was covered with a white, mask-looking poweder, my eyes had never looked like this before – it was less than optimal. I didn’t know if I should pity the student’s lack of talent or the ruthlessness of the instructor for demanding money from her.

Vampire me! This photo does not show the full extent of how bad the make-up looked.

As a thank-you I received a make-up tool in form of an expensive-looking brush and pink, loose powder (eye shadow, I assumed) together with a coupon to attend a class at their school at a reduced rate or to purchase an expensive make-up kit at a not signicantly enough reduced price. What a lucky day! On my way out I was just thinking about all those poor souls that probably would never learn how to do someone’s face right and who paid hundreds of dollars just to get ripped off.

New York – it’s filled with incredible scams and it’s fun to witness!

Just Another Day in Midtown

This is Midtown Manhattan. This is where I work. Midtown is large, its core reaching from 31st to 59th Street, from 3rd to 9th Avenue. It is the epitome of business, commercial, retail and what most tourists think New York is about. The heart of the Big Apple employs more than 700,000 workers who make their way into this busy center of New York each day. I am one of them.

Every morning I hop of the blue line at Penn Station on 34th St and 8th Avenue, finding my way through the usual suspects hanging around as soon as I reach the top of the stairs. Most major bus and train stations not only are a means of travel for tourists and commuters but also show a high amount of homeless people, drug addicts, and seedy characters. Penn Station does not differ from this image – a situation I had to get used to in the beginning. It surely was a change to see a business man in a dry-cleaned suit walking past an unkempt and unbathed guy in a dirty sweater and filthy pants. Just another hint to the wide gap between poor and rich and how this city deals with all their different social statuses.
There is always this big group of homeless people around 35th Street, lingering around a food store and talking loudly about whatever is on their minds (not always in a coherent manner). My coworker used to joke about her not being dressed up enough if one of these men did not whistle after her when she got off the train on any given day.
Midtown is relatively sleepy in the morning, awakening from its shady night business, being a home to the early sightseers and people who have to get to work on time.

Among the suit guys, the extravagantly dressed girls, the tourists, and the crazy men I make my way up to 36th St and enter the building with 20 floors. Not the highest around, but not the shortest, either. Double security check is required around this area, making me show my electronic ID to the woman at the door and having an electronic key for the entrance on our floor, past another grimly looking security guard. I found out that this procedure is common here in New York, maybe it makes some people feel important when they have to go through all these obstacles before they can actually do what they are being paid for.

When I exit the building again for lunch, I find myself in a bustling Midtown, as alive as it can get, for now the late tourists, the retail stores, and almost everyone else, who has to go to work, has awaken. Now is the time the minimum-wage workers stand on the streets, dressed up as a mascot or wearing a sign around them, advertising for pubs, pizza places, or jewelry stores. Some do their job convincingly, some just stand there wordlessly and hand me their flyer. Lunch options are vast in this area and, surprisingly, you can get a good deal because of all the competition going on. There are at least seven different pizza stands, half of them offering the $1 pizza special. Some are good, some are not even worth mentioning. At the corner of 37th St the 2Bros subsidiary has opened up a $1-pizza bistro, which is always packed, and its line continues to attract an even longer queue of hungry people. As I found out over the period of 9 months, you tend to get tired of it very fast, so diversity is important.

There are two good falafel places two streets away, and the shops Amici and Food Emporium offer every other kind of edibles such as a full salad bar, sushi, or cooked goodies. They do have their price, though. Fast food joints have opened up all along 8th Avenue, making White Castle one of the worst and McDonalds one of the most popular.

The proximity to Hell’s Kitchen seduces many people to grab their lunch at a good-tasting Thai, Irish, Spanish, Chinese, or other restaurant on 9th Avenue. The prices are good during restaurant week in January and July, offering a prix-fix meal at a relatively low cost without having the quality suffer.

2Bros

 

Fastfood on 8th Ave

 

Thai food Hell's Kitchen

Once in a while I use my lunch break for a shopping trip to Macy’s at Herald Square. Distance is not relevant, as it is only 7mins away. I try to only stay in that store and to not look around to see what GAP, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and Daffy’s has to offer. I try.

The Post Office Building on 33rd St and 8th Avenue is a cultural eye catcher as it was built in 1912 and displays many Roman architectural elements. Sometimes I feel like sitting on its steps and taking in my food while viewing rushed people, relaxed people, freaky people…you name it! I have also found that I am not the only one doing this and that some guys consider it a great spot to whistle after a random girl who walks past them while high-fiving each other for their courageous move. People use it as a meet-up point (you definitely cannot miss this building), hurry inside to take care of their mail errands or simply just sit in groups and are absorbed in their meal.

Bustling, busy, overcrowded Times Square

This neighborhood is mellow, compared to the one and only tourist hot spot: Times Square! Occasionally I find myself going to 42nd St, about a five-minute walk from where I work. I pass Port Authority with its commuters and buses coming to and from New Jersey (the picture very much resembles the one at Penn Station). The Times Square insanity already starts on 40nd St and 8th Avenue and I only make it up to Broadway until I decide I had enough and walk back, this time escaping the foreign crowds by taking some back roads.

There is nothing that beats the view you have of New York in Midtown, though. Sky-tall buildings, one cab after another, rich people in pimped up cars with chauffeurs, models on their way to a call, either dressed up or looking natural… One day I saw an obese girl in a pretty blue dress walk down the sidewalks while posing in front of a video camera. I guess they were filming for a new show. Another day a grungied up Punkrock model catwalked across the street in front of Penn Station – and had to do it again as the photographer was not satisfied with her first three performances.

After work, while on my way to the subway, the Midtown rush and hurry has vanished, giving way to tired business guys who are either going home or coming from a different district. People are getting ready for an eventful night out, starting out with a drink at happy hour price, chatting with their coworkers at a local bar, or simply enjoying being off and in Manhattan. They go shopping, since retails stores are open until 8 or 10PM. They run all their errands they weren’t able to do during lunch. Or they simply hop on a train to get out of the business center and dive into calmer realms.

Working in Midtown – you gotta love it or hate it!

F and Q Train Life

A few days ago I was on the Q-Train again – after 8 months of abstinence. I used to live on one of its stops but then I moved to an area which is on the F-Train. I had almost forgotten about the Q-train’s crowd and the people who board the subway every day. I remember how I really hated getting into the B and the Q in the morning or during rush hour after work because of the people on it. However, yesterday it was a nice change to take the line again and it made me compare the persons on there to the ones riding the F-Train.

Q-Train Park Slope

The Q-train was basically my very first stable and standard train I took from my first month here until December (that’s when I moved). It goes from Coney Island all the way up to Astoria in Queens and takes commuters from the deepest point of Brooklyn to the heart of Manhattan, if desired. Its tracks lead past the Russian neighborhoods around Brighton Beach, the Jewish communities in Midwood, the Haitian families around Prospect Park, and Brooklyn’s richer elite in Park Slope all the way up to Central Park in Midtown. It gives its travelers the chance to get to work on time or to stop by at some of New York’s best sightseeing spots. Directly from the depth of Chinatown at the Canal Street Stop it takes them to the Latin neighborhoods who are enriched by their own exotic culture in Queens.
But the very best part about the Q-Train is the view you have when crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Words cannot express it as this picture will but it is definitely the sight of the Manhattan skyline so close by that still, after over one year of being here, makes my heart pound faster once the trains exits the underground tunnel and steers toward its destination. It continues to give my journey to the City sense and to take my breath away once I rest my eyes on this unique scenery. Night and day will give you two completely different views, but both are equally exiting.

Manhattan Skyline from the Q
Manhattan Skyline from the Q
Manhattan in the fog
Manhattan in the fog

As you can tell, the Q-train is originally diverse. I have seldom seen so many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds than on this train. And surprisingly, I have even less witnessed a fight on the Q despite these different backgrounds being squeezed into each other each every morning and evening, forced to look a complete stranger in the eye or being exposed to a body distance that can be regarded as uncomfortable in other circumstances.

The F-Train hosts a very different crowd. Forget about the Haitian, Russian, and even Latin groups. What you have left is a standard ride on this transportation. Just like its yellow counterpart, it also leads from Coney Island all the way up into Manhattan. It doesn’t stop at the border of Queens, though, but goes even further and hereby forms the train that leads the furthest into Queens with its final stop being Jamaica. From here you can access a bus or take a taxi to get to the airports LaGuardia and JFK.

I live close to two of the stops the F makes in Park Slope. When I enter the train in the morning it is usually already crammed full and I can barely get a seat, of course. On my way to Midtown, the train makes several interesting stops: Cobble Hill, Dumbo, the heart of Chinatown at East Broadway, and along the Village and Chelsea up to Herald Square. The Park Slope stops are home to people in their twens or parents with younger children. You get to hear French fathers practicing conversation in their native language with their stubborn childs or dark nannies taking care of blonde infants. The snobbish and stressed people get in at Cobble Hill and they take almost every single standing spot left in this train. From there on, the ride turns into an adventure of trying to find your balance while searching for something to hold on. A crowd from the midst of Brooklyn joins at Jay-St Metrotech, coming from the A and C lines. Even though both blue lines don’t have a great vibe, the F train is not affected by this through its newly-gained commuters.

Some creative people walk into the train in Dumbo at York Street. If you get off here, you should take a nice stroll down to the Brooklyn Bridge and the two parks around it. The commuters who are the most interesting come into play in the Lower East Side: Unique looking, younger artists, bartenders, or simply people who have the air of enjoying their lives.
At W4 the madness starts as travelers are jumping out of the car to either dive into an express orange line or to run upstairs to catch the blue lines, which are running along 8th Ave.
During the entire ride you don’t see any skyline or view on Manhattan. You get to know Brooklyn better from Smith-9th St on, because the train sometimes runs above the ground from then on.

A positive thing about the F is that its energy is decent. The Q was transmitting angry vibes on most mornings I took it. I hardly even wanted to bump into anyone because I was scared this might make some Haitian woman yell at me. From Parkside Ave on the doors let in socially disadvantaged mommies with their not-very-well-behaved children. I hated it! I didn’t know where to look and what to think of these people. On the F I feel more like where I belong. Sure, you got your share of rude people, I’ll give you that! But as long as you don’t experience the fear of being harassed or screamed at, you’re good on your commute.

When I took the Q again earlier this week, I felt that their crowd might still be very much interesting and it is definitely still unique in my eyes.
Trains in New York- they tell their own story.