Dressed for the Ball – NY Gilded Age

By Nicosia Smith

New York City today is known for its excesses.

A glimpse of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal will attest to this.

New York’s grand lifestyles are by no means recent.

Since, for centuries those with wealth have flaunted it. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

But whenever you are confronted with these over the top lifestyles, it has a shock value.

Remember New York’s Gilded Age. Or should I say, have you heard about the Gilded Age.

The Museum of the City of  New York has decided to jug our memories.

Exhibiting objects from the mid 1870’s to the early 20th Century of New York’s rich.

It was the perfect way to open the museum’s Tiffany and Co. Foundation Gallery. That is, what better inaugural show, for a gallery sponsored by Tiffany, right.

The Gilded Age, was a time of excesses so grand, that even publications frown on it.

This was so, I imagine, because as wealthy families flirted and splurged at grand balls, New York struggled with a large poor population.

This exhibit is a bold display of costumes, jewelry, portraits, decorative plates, vases and fine china.

Immaculate clothing with sapphires, platinum, turquoise, ruby and fine silk. And painted silk feathers, mother-of-pearl folding fans.

A bejewelled breath freshener case and perfume bottles engraved with gold are also among the trinkets.

And the love of jewellery is seen in the self portraits of the rich.

Like the exhibit at the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America, vouches to this.

In addition – a slide show outside the Tiffany gallery, shows images from extravagant parties. Like the Alva and William K. Vanderbilt Ball of 1883 at their 5th Avenue Mansion, Bradley Martin Ball of 1897 and others.

They dressed as kings and queens from Europe and as an Egyptian princess or Indian chief. Posing for photos in courtyards and gardens, fashioned after Versailles. These exhibits are a great way to learn about this era, in person. And there is still time.

While the New York Historical Society exhibit ends March 9, this City Museum exhibit goes until November.

So go, take a look.


Keeping Central Park Historical

 Photo by Michael Minn (Google Search)

By Nicosia Smith

When you think of the beauty and serenity of Central Park, what comes to mind?

You may have wondered why: a stream runs there; a cascade flows that way; a walking path interrupts here and there; or tree canopies are in particular places. When it comes to walking paths though, years of trampling through the Park has created ‘desire lines’, that is, tracks created by visitors.

Other than those desire lines, everything else was created to be that way. It was built as an idealized way of the countryside for city dwellers by designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1872.

So contrary to what some may think, it really was not built for the wealthy to enjoy strolls in the 19th Century. Attesting to this, Lane N. Addonizio, Associate Vice President for Planning, at Central Park Conservancy said, ‘nothing really could be furthest from the truth’. She made these comments September 25 at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in Harlem at a forum titled, Harlem Focus – Urban Woodland Restoration: Design and Nature’s Habitat.

Nevertheless, the Park over the years did lose some of that country feeling. With almost dried up lakes, sedimentation blocking water flow, lost of plant life and trampling that has created desire lines.  “The Loch,” or lake, over time had also come down to a trickle.

Addonizio told the public forum that, they want to create areas with more water and the plan is to bring back the deep water pool; create variety particularly for habitat and more scenery.

This is glad to know, as a city dweller, because there are still a lot of us who cannot go to the countryside.

Children shaped by violence

(Photo Courtesy of Google)

Youth violence is becoming a major problem.

More and more youths are responding with violence.

On themselves, on each other, on their families and on society.

What is going on? It is all I can ask.

Why is it youths feel the need to use violence to get their points across.

Our culture of violence has shaped a violent society.

One where young people see no other outlet then violence.

Where will it end……

Barack Middle Class Savior or Not?

(Photo Courtesy Google)

Will Barack Save the Middle Class?

Another four years for President Barack Hussein Obama to stand at the white house podium.

And for Michelle Obama to work on the White House garden.

For many this election was a sign for renewed hopefulness, while for others, Obama’s term is nothing to cheer for.

What is known is that, we are in uncertain times. These times are demanding more from us physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Many are still recovering from the housing crisis. A minimum wage earner in New York City cannot afford the city rents. Some insurers, including mine, increased health insurance by over 20%. And food prices continue to rise. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many to live the American Dream.

I know the president, sympathizes with middle class struggles coming from that background. But for those of us trying to get into the middle class or falling out of it, sympathy alone will not work.

The president must set clear and define goals that he will achieve for the middle class. There must be a plan, to improve housing and to jolt stagnant wages through growth. There is also a growing trend of deteriorating workers’ rights. As corporations seek to grow profits for themselves, they have trampled on basic workers’ rights. The Obama administration must show its support for workers.

Mr. President, I will like you to champion middle class issues and the concerns of the poor. Because it is the best chance America has got. Just look at the Middle East uprisings.

Morgage paying wife and vacationing husband

By Nicosia Smith

A burden Jamaican immigrant complain to me in the laundromat recently about her vacationing husband.

While she is in the US trying to pay two mortgages, since September 1,2011 her husband is in Jamaica.

Although rent from tenants assist to pay the mortgage it is not enough.

This retiree said her social security and disability checks have to supplement the mortgage plus living expensive.

Lives apart seems to be a growing trend among Caribbean immigrants.

Both male and female are choosing for whatever reason to leave their partners and return to the Caribbean.

But what of their US families. Who pays the bills and maintain the mortgages.

After 27 years of marriage the woman told me she now “scorns” her husband. And he has become like a stranger .

This is not her husband’s first year-long vacation.

This was sad to hear. As if trying to make sense of it all she kept saying ‘it is not as if we are separated’.

I also got the impression that if the vacation resulted in income that came to the US, she would not mind his absence.

While in Jamaica the husband is apparently farming. An activity the wife claims is draining their finance.

She would like him to return to the US to his construction job.

Over the decades Caribbean immigrants have sent their children to grandparents and extended families in the region, or have left them there.

So it seems that some Caribbean immigrant wives and husbands are now following the path of their kids.