Sunday, February 21, 2016

Three 100-Year-Old Landmarked Churches…New York, San Francisco 

Brumidi Murals at St. Stephen's, Harlem's St. Patrick's Cathedral, St. Brigid and "The Grace of Everyday Saints"


St.Stephen's Church East 29th Street 

I stood before the locked wrought iron gates of St. Stephen’s Church in Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood and cursed to myself, so I thought, yet loud enough for an elderly woman to stop and frown. I apologized. But the expletives still filled my thoughts.

St. Stephen’s is less than two miles from my Hell’s Kitchen apartment yet it took me four years to get here. I passed it many times but always late at night after it closed. Finally on July 30 of 2015, a hot sunny morning, while checking my grocery list as I entered the local supermarket, I stopped, reversed my steps, exited the store, tossed the list into a trash can and power walked to St. Stephen’s. “This is my last chance, I thought. I’ll arrive twenty minutes before noonday mass with enough time to take a few pictures.”

This is not a story about one-time Catholic grade school-choir boy’s pilgrimage to the church of his favorite saint. I had wanted to visit Our Lady of Scapular and St. Stephen’s, it’s official name after a merger with another church years ago, not for mass, but for its beautiful murals by noted nineteen century artist Constantino Brumidi before the New York Archdiocese’s closed the church for good on August 1.

Over the last several years the Archdiocese underwent a major restructuring.  Dwindling school enrollment and church attendance, shortage of clergy, the high cost of maintaining many underused buildings, and possibly the expensive payouts for the church sex abuse scandals made this necessary. 

Late fall of 2014, the NY Archdiocese which includes Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island and parishes as far north as Orange County in upstate New York, announced the restructuring of 112 of its 368 parishes. This included merging many parishes and closing about 31 others, including St. Stephen’s.
Built in the Romanesque Revival style and designed by James Renwick Jr., the renowned architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., St. Stephen’s was founded in 1854. It has 45 works by Brumidi, including his 46 by 26-foot The Crucifixion above the main altar. 

Brumidi, born in Rome of a Greek father and an Italian mother became a naturalized US citizen in the 1850’s. His most famous works The Apotheosis of George Washington adorns the US Capitol dome; his Liberty and Union painting is near entrance hall of the White House.
Among his first two-commissioned U.S. works are Martyrdom of St. Stephen and The Assumption of Mary, also at St. Stephen’s.


The Crucifixion of Christ above the main altar of St. Stephen's

I first developed an interest in Brumidi when I wrote about NYC’s Holy Innocent’s Church in this blog. His Crucifixion of Christ towers behind the altar of this West 37th Street church.
I always had a fascination for old buildings but I owe my enthusiasm for churches to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Julian Guthrie’s and her 2011 book, TheGrace of Everyday Saints.

Guthrie wrote an excellent insightful account about a small band of devoted parishioners, among them a nationally known death row lawyer, an activist priest, a Burmese convert to Catholicism and a gay Catholic who took their fight to save their local church, St. Brigid, all the way to the Vatican after the San Francisco Archdiocese’s abruptly closed their relatively vibrant parish in 1994. This lead to a decades long struggle to save their religious sanctuary and to landmark this building located in the heart of San Francisco.


St. Brigid's Church, Broadway and Van Ness Streets, San Francisco
The original wood framed church erected in 1863 by Irish immigrants and replaced in 1904 by the present Romanesque building built of curbstones from San Francisco’s streets is noted for its architecture and its many gems: an Italian-made Ruffati pipe organ, stained glass windows from Dublin, the St. Brigid and twelve life sized statues of the Apostles. A survivor of two earthquakes St. Brigid’s had played an integral role in religious and cultural life of the city’s Irish community and for those groups that: Italians and in later years newcomers from Hong Kong, Burma, Mexico, and the Philippines.  They lost their house of worship but St. Brigid’s, a city landmark, still stands and San Francisco’s Academy of Art University uses it today for classrooms and gallery space.

My story does not end at the gates of St. Stephen’s. On August 1 I took the subway uptown to Madison Avenue and East 129th Street, to a church known as Harlem’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Also designed by James Renwick Jr. and his nephew William Renwick, All Saints Church is a cathedral-sized ornate Gothic building with a very tall bell tower, and Franz Mayer stained glass windows, and a Roosevelt Organ.


Harlem's All Saint's Church at Madison Avenue and 129th Street.
The parish, founded by Irish immigrants in 1883, the upper church was not completed until 1893. A city landmark since 2007, the one-time beautiful hard carved mahogany pews seats over 1500. When Harlem’s demographics changed in the early part of the last century the church became predominantly African American. In later years it also served Nigerian Catholics.

On that beautiful blue-sky morning I arrived in plenty of time for All Saint’s late morning Sunday mass. I sauntered past the open iron gates, up the steps to the large front doors and smiled in anticipation of exploring this magnificent edifice. As I cupped the door handle and pulled, the door did not budge. 

Locked out again!!!!

Editor's Notes:
St. Stephen's Church has two main entrances and two major facades.  In the 1860's the church was expanded through to East 29th Street. It had one of the largest congregations of any Catholic Church in the city at the time. The 29th Street facade is not as distinguished although it contains a huge rose window.

The Grace of Everyday Saints - How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith
By Julian Guthrie, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

Photos: 
St. Stephen's Church and All Saint's Church: Rudi Papiri
Brumidi's Painting: St. Stephen's Church Bulletin
St. Brigid Churh: Courtesy of Alvis Hendley, NoeHill.com 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Walking NYC...

A StrayCat Finds Holiday Magic on City Streets


Lord&Taylor Fifth Avenue
I chuckled as I passed Bergdorf Goodman’s at 58th and Fifth Avenue the day after Christmas 2015.
I did more than just chuckled. I stopped, stared and shook my head amazed when I spotted two very attractive, very fashionably dressed middle-aged women exiting the store. They moved effortlessly arm-in-arm, step-for-step, an impossible feat on an avenue bustling shoulder-to-shoulder with people gaping at the store’s spectacular holiday windows.

Two women, from Milan, I learned later, visiting the city for Christmas, and dressed stylishly blended perfectly with the glamour of Fifth Avenue’s (or Cortina d’Ampezzo, St. Mortiz, or Aspen’s) haute couture boutiques. One woman wore a white Moncler coat, her suntanned face tucked inside its fur-lined hood. Her friend had on a black Bogner Ski Jacket with fur-lined collar and cuffs. A slouchy dark knit slouchy hat with a fur pom covered her head. Large silver framed Gucci sunglasses masked her eyes. Both wore gloves, mid-calf length shearling boots with rolled over shearling tops and large scarves loosely draped around their neck. Yes! They looked stunning as if they just left a photo shoot of Town and Country or Quest, magazines for the affluent.

You may wonder why I smirked and raised my brows when I saw these two women? For one the three twenty-something dudes walking in front of them offered a contrast of styles. One had a hoodie and short pants, another had on only a tee shirt, shorts and Santa hat, and the third guy wore a long sleeve NY Ranger shirt and torn jeans.

Second, the temperature hit 66 degrees, a city record for the date. On Christmas the temperatures soared to 72 degrees, also a new record, with a low a 63, numbers more in tune to a Los Angeles Christmas than a New York City one.

Shirtless volleyball players competed in Central Park, surfers tackled better than average waves at Rockaway Beach, and runners in tank tops and shorts worked up a sweat jogging in Hudson River Park. In several neighboring suburban beach towns the temperature went as high as 76, several degrees warmer than July 4 of this year.

Okay maybe this year pushcart vendors sold fewer roasted nuts and pretzels, and Starbucks may have had disappointing sales hawking their gingerbread lattes or eggnog frappuccinos but the spirit of the season glowed as strong as ever.

Rain, sleet, snow, frigid weather, or unseasonally high temperatures can  never have a negative impact on the city’s long-standing reputation as one of the world’s great stages for celebrating Christmas and the New Year.

What the Straycat saw as he darted from 60th Street to Herald Square.


Bloomingdale's 

Interactive Photo Displays. Straycat Image in Top Shot

Barneys New York

"Chilling' Out Arctic Chase" 

Bergdorf Goodman

Welcoming in 2016 at the Costume Ball

Harry Winston

"Talk to me, Harry Winston" Marilyn Monroe sang in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree  

The 83rd Annual Rock Center Tree: 78' Feet Tall Norway Spruce from Upstate NY with 45,000 LED Lights, 9-foot Swarovski star w/25,000 crystals


Saks Fifth Avenue Light Show

The Largest Display of Festive Holiday Windows; plus a Light/Music Show Every Ten Minutes

Saks Fifth Avenue Window

From Rome to Fifth Avenue "The Ice Cold Coliseum" 

Lord & Taylor

Seeing the Wonders of the Holidays on the Face of a Child

Macy's

 Miracle of 34th Street Began Here in 1947 Starring Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara
and Edmund Gwen


Photo Credits: Rudi Papiri

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NYC Style Through the Looking Glass

The Windows of Jay Kos, Kate Spade, Tom Ford, TAGG, Yoya.....And What I Found

*Remembering Elaine Stritch and The Ladies Who Lunch

                **I'm not strange, weird, off, nor crazy,
                    my reality is just different from yours.

New York City is a window shopper’s paradise and Fifth Avenue from 49th to 60th Street is its main stage. During the Christmas holidays its store windows sparkle with colorful and festive displays, some traditional, some contemporary and some avant-garde but all capture the wonder and beauty of the season in a unique New York Style. 

Crowds swell in front of the huge windows of Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor further south on Fifth at 39th Street, and Macy’s gargantuan Herald Square store at 34th.  Street.
On this stretch of Fifth you will also find the U.S. flagship stores of Tiffany, Cartier, Armani, Gucci, Versace, Henri Bendel, Faconnable, FAO Schwarz, and Van Cleef and Arpel.
I am not a window shopper. I am city walker who walks at a brisk pace. I appreciate the magic of an artistically designed window no matter what time of year. Often I have stopped in midstride drawn by the hypnotic lure of these movie-like sets

My favorite street for window viewing is Madison Avenue from 86th
to 63rd Street. Sorry but Barney’s located at 61st street does not make the cut. Madison Avenue loses it intimacy and small town feel as one get closer to get to bustling 57th Street, plus the buildings are much taller.

Most major cities have a street for the luxury or fashion conscious shopper. I have walked several including Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, rue Saint-Honor√©
in Paris, the other two fashion capitals of the world. I have also walked Worth Avenue in Palm Beach and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

I first encountered Madison Avenue many years ago when I walked home after a high school baseball game in Central Park’s North Meadow. I discovered an avenue with scores of brightly lit windows, filled with expensive well-tailored and bespoke clothes, shoes, linens, furniture, antiques and paintings created by celebrated designers. That night I felt as if I had I had crossed an imaginary line leaving New York City at one corner and winding up in some far-away place, many stores posted the locations of their stores worldwide.  Madison became my “yellow brick road.” It did not lead me to OZ but to Paris, London, Milan, Saint-Tropez, Portofino, Geneva, Tokyo, San Paolo, and Barcelona.


There are several fashion streets and neighborhoods in the city. Recently, over the course of several days, I searched for fun, stylish windows.  Instead of taking my standard mental photo I snapped over 200 pictures with my iPhone. I share my fourteen favorite windows. Theys are listed by neighborhood. I have excluded touristy Fifth Avenue.

Madison Avenue

Loro Piana  748 Madison Ave. near 65th St

"Your So Vain"  Walking Madison Avenue

Mallet Antiques  929 Madison Ave. 75th St.
Commode by Jean Royere, France 1950
Pair of Art Noveau Wall Light, Belgium 1900
Pair pf Rosso Levanto Columns 1780
"Welcome to My House a Very Fine House"

Ralph Lauren  Madison Ave. at 72nd St.
"Madison Avenue I Am Ready for My Closeup"
Missoni  1009 Madison Ave. 78th St.
Opening Night at the Opera
Tom Ford  845 Madison Ave. bet. 70-71St
"Steppin' Out of the Elevator"

MeatPacking/West Village

431 West 14th St
Summer in the Hamptons
YOYA  646 Hudson St.
Cool Kids of the West Village
Tiziano Zorzan  69 Eighth Ave. near 14th St.
Sunday in the Park with Zorzan

Nolita

Patricia Field  306 Bowery 
Get Your Freak On
Bed Head Pajamas  252 Elizabeth Ave.
Mother and Child Pajama Party
Jay Kos  292 Mott St.
What I  Saw Through the Looking Glass

Tribecca

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada  466 Greenwich St.
Under the Big Top...Send in the Clowns

Hell's Kitchen

***TAGG  720 Ninth Avenue 49th St
Strut Your Junk...Buns in the Oven
*Store window photo at the beginning of the article.
Kate Spade  789 Madison Ave 66-67th St.

**Quote: Lewis Caroll, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
***Most "Fun" Website - Signals  the "new" Hell's Kitchen. Click on TAGG!
All Photos by Rudi Papiri

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bansky and His 31 Days in New York:

Artist Stirs Memories of Taki 183, Caine 1

Dondi and the City's Graffiti Heyday 

Graffiti emerged on the New York scene like a tsunami rushing in from the sea in the early 1970’s. Taggers with pseudonyms like Taki 183, Dondi, Cliff 159, Stayhigh 149, and Blade staged an aggressive in-your-face assault on a captive and unsuspecting audience, the million plus people who rode the subways on a daily basis.

This first wave of artists or vandals, depending on your view of art, defiance and defacement, used the subways as their personal 24/7 galleries and forum. With their energy, fervor and quite often talents graffiti entered the mainstream quickly. Their monikers became synonymous with the subway lines they tagged.


Their worked appeared everywhere: on doors, windows, seats, and ceilings throughout the system.
If you took the #4 train to Yankee Stadium you thought you rode the Mitch 77 train. If you went to Shea Stadium, where the NY Mets played, you rode The Caine Freedom Train compliments of Caine 1 and not the #7. Competition grew fierce and the graffiti exploded. Graffiti crews worked long hours in unguarded train yards creating their next eye-catching displays.

Tags evolved from simple lettering to huge block letters, large decorative illustrations and zany designs with cartoon characters like Snoopy or Dick Tracy emblazoned in vivid colors. Comparable mind-boggling works graced the exterior of cars from end-to-end, and not just a handful of cars but almost all cars.

The grime, filthy, smelly, and unsafe conditions of a deteriorating system compounded with smudged incomprehensible drawings, illegible scribbles, tags and designs copied on top of each other made it difficult to appreciate the works created some talented artists.

Bansky Unveils His Stuff

Graffiti as street art or vandalism resurfaced last October when Bansky, a British artist, painter, activist, and documentary filmmaker announced on his website a month long artist residency in New York City. Bansky received an Oscar nomination in 2010 for his film Exit Thru the Gift Shop and that same year made Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.


Bansky, a recluse, is well known for “bombing walls in San Francisco, Detroit, Paris, and Barcelona.
His true identity is unknown although the London Daily Mail speculates he is Robin Gunningham, who began with the tag Robin Banx. He developed his pencil sketch style in his native Bristol, England.

In 2003 he staged his breakthrough exhibit “Turf Wars” in an East London Warehouse. In 2005 his celebrity grew when he traveled to Palestine and stenciled nine images on the West Bank Wall including his iconic Masked Armed Thrower. He has had major shows in Los Angeles and Sydney.
At the Miami Street Art Auction in February his “Kissing Coppers’s sold for $575,000.

His New York exhibit called “Better Out Than In” had one Bansky work popping up at undisclosed locations all 31 days in October. Bansky hit all five boroughs. His first installation in Chinatown, “The Street Is in Play,” showed one boy standing on the back of a second boy touching a sign which read “Graffiti is a Crime,” It ended with a set of balloons spelling BANSKY! And tied to a Queens warehouse on Halloween.


In between Bansky had a real person shining the shoes of a large fiberglass Ronald McDonald statue outside a Mickey D’s in the South Bronx; in Manhattan’s meatpacking district he unveiled “The Sirens of the Lambs” a slaughterhouse delivery truck crammed with stuff animals, heads butting out from slots, while touring the meatpacking district as a recording of animals crying played; and the Two Geisha Girls with parasols in Williamsburg, where bystanders tussled with a hooded vandal as he tagged the work.

Bansky artistic exploits, product placement (most off the beaten path) and PR showmanship tweaked my interest. And I like his work. In a city where graffiti survives for years more than half of his had not. Property owners destroyed or removed some. Taggers vandalized others.

Five days after his exhibit ended, I left my house at 10 am in search of Bansky. I headed to Larry Flint’s Hustler Club, at West 51st & 11th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen’s, near my apartment, to see my favorite “Waiting in Vain.” Painted on October 24, it showed a forlorn lover dressed in a suit and a loosened tie slouched against a wall holding wilted flowers. No luck! The club, knew its value, removed it.

Next I walked to West 25th and 11th Avenue to see his second one, a text piece which read, “This is My New York Accent…Normally I Write Like This.” Strike two!
I went to 24th near 10th Avenue for his 18th installment, an outdoor exhibition, and two hanging pieces, under the High Line in Chelsea, done in collaboration with Brazilian street artists Os Geneos. Strike three!
Moving to 24th Street and 6th I found his third posting, marred with graffiti. Called “You Complete Me” it showed a dog urinating against a fire hydrant. 


I walked to four other Banksy locations with no luck: the East Village (Priest in a Concrete Confessional), Lower East Side (the Two Boys; Night Vision Horses) and Nolita (Grim Reaper Rides a Bumper Car).
I flirted with the idea of crossing the Williamsburg Bridge to continue my search in Brooklyn but called it quits. At 4pm I returned home. At least I found one.

Photo Credits: 
a. DONDI - www.UKStreetArt.co.uk/dondi by Andy. In memory
    of Donald Joseph White "Dondi" (April 7, 1961 - Oct.2, 1998)
b. "The Street Is in Play" (Two Boys)  - Flickr - www.noupe.com by Tara Horner
c. "Waiting in Vain" Flickr - JC Decaux www.mobility-trend.com 
d. "You Complete Me" - Dog at Hydrant - Rudi Papiri
NYC Subway graffiti reference: Spar One Editor/Resource Director for Graffiti @149st

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tommy Tune's Penthouse Party...

Finding Pieces for My New York 
               Skyline Puzzle 

From a tipsy barefoot Robert Redford prancing before Jane Fonda in Washington Square Park in Barefoot in the Park, to John Travolta admiring the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Saturday Night Fever to the baptism of Christ, played by Victor Garber, in Bethesda Fountain in Central Park in Godspell, New York City has served as a backdrop for many movies and television programs.
(YouTube Videos for movies posted below)

I enjoy scrutinizing old film clips and pictures of the city. I have a good sense of places and locations, yet I still get lost exploring its neighborhoods or when viewing the wonderful photos of Gary Winogrand, Helen Levitt, and Berenice Abbott and their images of old New York, one I never knew. 

Months ago when I received an email and photo attachment (posted below) from my friend Jim Malcolm I accepted it as a personal challenge.



He wrote,  "This is a penthouse party near Union Square. What street is this?

Jim, a native New Yorker, moved away years ago. He is retired living in California.

I emailed back, “Not near Union Square.”

It is!” Jim replied.”  It’s TommyTune’s apartment. My neighbor was there.”

To showcase his roots and knowledge of Manhattan to his neighbor Jim wrote, “Can you name any of the buildings.” 

“Easy!” I never thought it would take me parts of three weeks to answer his question. I reviewed Google Maps, Instagram, and real estate websites. I made four tours of east side streets with binoculars, camera and notepad.

Why did it take me so long? I found Tommy Tune’s place and the names of four buildings quickly. 
I knew the party took place somewhere between 49 and 55th Streets on First Avenue judging 
from the angle of the terrace and building 4.

When walking the streets of midtown east it is difficult to get a clear view of building tops. With the help of the Internet I found building 5 – and its white crown top. I located buildings 1 and 3. At first I mistook 1, the Libya House, for Verizon’s monolith on East 38th (now NYU Medical Center) with its stone slab sidings.

I had all the pieces, except one, building 2. At first, I assumed it was the Chrysler Building. Its fragmented top and stripped down Charlie Brown Christmas tree tower left me doubtful.

I focused on the Chanin Building, Lexington and 42nd Street. The 1929, 56-story city landmark in buff brick and terra cotta, is topped with a spindly radio antenna. Mystery solved? NO! The antenna looked small and unimpressive.

Fortunately I spotted a white antenna soaring high above midtown as I stood at 41st and Eight Avenue looking east. I searched the entire area with no luck. Ten days later sitting in Bryant Park I found it. It was not an antenna, but a huge crane at a construction site for a new office building, 7 Bryant Park.

Ready to raise the white flag I decided to scan the midtown skyline with my binoculars from the 22nd floor of the Time Life building where I work. Keith Aurelio a co-worker and imaging specialist asked what I was doing. I showed him the photo and explained my dilemma. He opened a digital version of the picture in photoshop, then doodled some, and “Presto”! The Chrysler building materialized.

Where did the party take place?  Jim was right, in a way. Nine-time Tony award winner Tommy Tune had lived on 18th and Park Avenue South near Union Square but moved to First and 52nd, the scene of the party.

*Pieces of the Puzzle!
1_Libya House –East 48th, Second Ave; 24-stories, built in 1982, home to Libya’s mission to the United Nations.
2_Chrysler Building – Lexington Ave., 42-43rd Streets. This 77-story Art Deco wonder, built in 1930, served as Chrysler’s headquarters until the1950’s.
3_One Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Plaza – Second Avenue and 47th. The 1972, 49-story tower is home to various companies and U.N. agencies.
4_Met Life - Park Avenue at 45th Street; 60 stories, completed in 1963, for Pan Am; offered rooftop helicopter service to Pan Am’s JFK terminal until an accident killed five people.
5_Sterling Plaza – Second Avenue at 49th Street, 32-story residential condominium built in 1985.

*YouTube Segments of Movies listed above:
Barefoot in the Park
Godspell 
Saturday Night Fever

Photo: Unknown Source; location Southgate Apartments at East 52nd Street near Sutton Place/Beekman Places; designed by Emory Roth.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Moses Gates: Hidden Cities...

Urban Adventurer Explores the Secret 
Places of the World's Great Cities


Moses Gates is not your typical tourist with a passion for cities. 
He is an urban planner, a licensed New York City tour guide, and a visiting assistant professor of demography at Pratt Institute.
He has an adventurous streak that leans more towards Indiana Jones than that of a starry-eyed Smartphone carrying photo-snap-happy tourist from the Midwest where he grew up.
Gates is not searching for the Ark of the Covenant or evading Nazis like Jones, Harrison Ford's character in the movie Raiders of the Lost Arc.

He is not satisfied sauntering across the Brooklyn Bridge to marvel at its beauty and enjoy the views of the New York Bay and the lower Manhattan skyline. It is just as hard to picture Gates entering the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, or any other noted world destination in as a normal tourist.

Why? Gates thinks differently. While most people are content to walk across a famous bridge, Gates wants to climb it. He wades, no he dives head first into the underbelly of the cities he visits and unveils their hidden secrets and shares his stories with us.

In his book Hidden Cities: Travels to the Secret Corners of the World’s Great Metropolises; A memoir of Urban Exploration we learn Gates is a thrill-seeking urban adventurer with a wanderlust for going where very few people have ventured before him.

In the first sentence of page one of his insightful and humorous memoir he writes,
“I have just rung the bell of Notre Dame.”

Gates and several companions, including his best friend and the ultimate urban explorer Steve Duncan, are drinking at a Paris bar when they decide to investigate the city’s 1200-plus miles of underground canals. After squeezing through a locked gate they walked for a mile and-a-half before they stopped realizing it is tough to wade through a sewer without rubber boots and an air meter (this is an adventure for another day). They exited the sewer by popping open a manhole cover. Next they opt for the Cathedral of Notre Dame and its bell tower. They reach the bell not with a tour guide or by ascending the 387 steps of its narrow spiral stairwell but by scaling its exterior. They climb its gargoyles; flying buttresses and a makeshift ladder at night, in the rain, and tipsy.

His adventures span four continents. He has dodged third rails in five of the world’s ten largest subway tunnels including New York, Stockholm, Paris, London and Moscow. He has roamed the catacombs, water and sewer tunnels of these cities as well as Naples, Rome, and Odessa. Besides the Brooklyn Bridge he has climbed the George Washington, Williamsburg, Manhattan, Hell’s Gate Bridges (Gates calls it a beast of a bridge and a direct inspiration for the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge) and the Moscow Bridge in Kiev. Climbing is challenging and dangerous, especially at night, his preferred time in order to lessen chances of getting arrested.

There is only one way up the Brooklyn Bridge he writes: “climb the suspension cables, navigate around the suicide guards – metal gates on the cables designed to keep people from scaling them…then balance on the cables, hang on to the guide wires for dear life, and hope a gust of wind doesn’t come along.”
  
Gates writes about these dangers and his adventures in a casual matter-of-fact style like someone visiting the Statue of Liberty or the pyramids for the first time. His tales are funny. He writes about his “Sex on the Bridge Club” and his own rendezvous on the Williamsburg Bridge, of getting karate kicked in the face by a homeless woman named Brooklyn at 2 in the morning at her birthday party in the train tunnel under Riverside Park in New York City, and walking the streets of Rio de Janeiro dressed in drag and losing his negligee after getting drenched in a downpour.

 Gates gives us the history of the places he visits and he sheds light on his world one of squatters living in a vacant mansion in San Paolo, teenagers occupying Cold War bunkers under Odessa and much more. He writes about an informal network of students, travelers, historians, adventurers including legends with names like Dsankt and Siologen, members of Cave Clan, a group formed in Australia whose purpose is to climb urban storm drains. He writes about graffiti artists some of who have created masterpieces in the catacombs of Paris and in the train tunnels and unused subway stations in New York.

With Gates we enter ancient Roman ruins in the sewers beneath the Capitoline Hills in Rome, and German bunkers in Paris. We explore the city’s catacombs and wind past ossuaries filled with skulls and bones neatly stacked together. We discover the tomb of Philibert Aspairt who disappeared in the Paris catacombs in 1793. Legend says his torch expired while searching for the wine cellars of the Chartreux monks.  We travel through many rooms and a cave several stories high, and sliver through two-foot-high tunnels.

This is the ultimate reference book for those travelers whose curiosities know no boundaries. For the rest of us it may not inspire us to risk our lives climbing famous landmarks but it will certainly stir our interest to learn about the secrets of our hidden cities.

Buy his book: Hidden Cities: A Memoir of Urban Exploration
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, Paperback Edition 2013
Follow Moses Gates on Twitter.

•His notes at the end of the book are an invaluable resource. His black/white and color photographs are priceless.