Tour the world’s vandalism

Eyesore or art, graffiti is part of any culture’s public dialogue. Vandalism is visual profanity, and we all swear in our own f—ing ways. I’ve been drawn to these wall scrawls for a while, probably since I read Holden Caulfield‘s concerns about the subject in Catcher in the Rye. My fascination gained momentum while I was stationed in South Korea.

A soldiers’ bar in Tong Du Chon (the Peace Club, which is no longer there) was littered with attempted wit. “I used to believe in the common decency of main,” one drunken soldier-scholar printed at eye level. Another replied, “I still do.” Eight hours into a soju-induced haze, this stuff is profound.

Along the way, I’ve become a connoisseur of this crime, though only as an observer. I have seen social commentary and even debate. And, there’s even been a bit of meaningless paint spilled in the vain hope of making a point. I’ve soaked it all in and hit a few readers up for their tips, as well.

So, let’s take a tour of some of my favorite acts of defacement. Some reflect careful planning and show artistic talent. Others offer nothing more than layers upon layers of cries for attention and assertions of self-importance.In Iceland, I read in the local English language newspaper, the Reykjavik Grapevine, that an outbreak of graffiti was the result of building vacancies triggered by the weakened economy (and this was back in June). This was supported by the observations of the walking tour’s prophetic viking. Hell, the wall says it all.

The Parisians waxed political on the walls of metro stations. I was in town for the hotly contested presidential election of May 2007, and the ultimate winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, took a beating in the vandals’ press. This is nothing compared to the scratched-out eyes on campaign posters, though.

Translation: Sarko = Bush = Berlusconi = Shit. The tagger lumps the president of France with the now former president of the United States and the hotheaded former president of Italy … not to mention a steaming pile. Politics took center stage in Tallinn, Estonia, as well. Thankfully, the vandals worked in English, making it easy for me to take a stab at recreating the crime.

From what I could see, this is something of a public discussion. First, it seems, a disgruntled “activist” wrote “Fuck Fascism!” And, I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree with that. Next, a second person probably popped “anti” in front of fascism, before a third joined the spray-painted conversation by crossing out “fuck.” A fourth crossed out “anti,” and we’re left with fascism. But, the entire discourse supports the original position.

At least, that’s how I’d imagine the entire process unfolding.

The most compelling, however, was in Quebec. I found it fascinating that the retort to an assertion of independence was proffered in English.

Of course, my neighbors are far from innocent. Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we seem to be waging a war on body image. Custo Barcelona, an upscale fashion retailer, has ads on the corner of W. 71st St. and Columbus Ave. The models, wearing about as much body fat as they are clothing, glare at me every time I walk to Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog, as if holding me in contempt for my substandard diet. Someone (not me, I promise) decided to comment.

Hey, New Yorkers can be brutal, even in my quiet, peace-loving corner of the city. This is but one example of how the poor Custo models, have suffered, though. Check out the photo gallery below to get a sense of how Upper West Siders feel about this bit of eye candy.


And, this is just a taste of what I have collected. Take a look at the next photo gallery to see what our readers have submitted. Fortunately, their collections are a bit more high-minded than mine. The stories with each photos are in the readers’ own words (with some slight editing).



Catcher in the Rye inspired Holden Caufield tour of New York City

The 10th most popular book in the United States is Catcher in the Rye. Way to go Holden! Although Holden roamed the streets of New York City at Christmas time in the early 1950s, you can take in what he did even in warmer weather. Holden Caufield’s version of NYC is certainly cheaper than the Sex in the City tour that Iva wrote about. That one costs $24,000.

Here’s my suggestion for a Holden Caufield inspired itinerary with costs included. I’m providing the adult rates. The itinerary is based on the places Holden went. Each are mentioned in the novel. I’ve thrown in the cost of a day MetroCard along with the subway and bus stops to make your gadabout easier. If you start early in the morning and don’t dawdle, you should be able to hit all stops–although this is if you only see highlights at the two museums. Each of them could take several hours. Take a copy of the novel with you so you can see what Holden saw and compare notes. There will be an essay afterwards.

Start here– Grand Central Station –free. Subways: # 4, 5, 6, 7, and S. From here walk to Rockefeller Center by heading to 5th Avenue and turning right. It’s a piece of cake.

Rockefeller Center –free, unless you go ice-skating. Ice-skating goes on through April 13th. For adults, $10–weekdays or $14–weekends. Skate rental, $8. Subways: F-D-B-Q. There are others that will get you close, but you’ll have to walk a little. Nearby is Radio City Music Hall where Holden saw the Rockettes. You’ll have to wait until their Christmas Spectacular Show to see them. Presale tickets are available.

To take the #1, which will get you to the American Museum of Natural History, the next tour stop, walk a few blocks to 50th and Broadway.

American Museum of Natural History –It can be free, however, there is a suggested admission of $15 for adults. You have to go through the line to pay what you want in order to get a ticket. Subway directions: Take B (weekdays only) or C to 81 Street or #1 to Broadway and West 79th Street.

Central Park Carousel -$2.00. The carousel and the Central Park Zoo trip fits between the two museum visits. The carousel reopens after the winter months in April. Although, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is directly across the park from the American Museum of Natural History, I’d go to the carousel and zoo for a change of pace and to enjoy some spring flowers. Here’s a link to a teeny tiny map so you can see what I’m talking about. You can take a bus M7 to Central Park South and enter the park at 6th Avenue. Grab a soft pretzel with a dollop of mustard. If you’re lucky you can find a knish. Oh, I love those things.

Central Park Zoo – $8.00 (for adults) To get to the zoo from the carousel, keep walking across the park towards Fifth Avenue. You’ll pass by the Dairy Barn along the way.

Metropolitan Museum of Artfree, except there is a suggested donation of $20 for adults. You can walk here from the zoo, if you like to walk several blocks, or walk to Madison Ave. and take the M1, M2, M3, or M4 up to 83rd Street. On Fridays and Saturdays, the museum is open until 9 PM so you’ll have time to not hurry so much–plus there’s music.

Here’s an article that can work as a cheat sheet to show you what Holden saw at these places. You won’t be able to take in the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. For that, come back during the winter holidays.

Admission costs if you pay the full amount at the museums—55 + MetroCard for unlimited day use–$7 = Total $ $62.