Plane Crash Memorialized In The Deep Sahara

In a lonely corner the Sahara Desert, Google Earth shows what looks like a tattoo on the sun-parched sands: a dark graphic blot amid the vast remoteness of Niger’s Tenere region. The negative space in the center of the dot forms the shape of a DC-10 jet plane. Four arrows outside the circle point in each direction, like a compass.

The dark mass large enough to register on a satellite is actually an arrangement of boulders improbably hauled to the desolate area and hand-placed to create the precise image of a DC-10 – a memorial for the 170 victims of the UTA 772 plane crash on Sept. 19, 1989. A terrorist’s bomb downed the aircraft in Niger en route from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Paris, leaving no survivors.

Fifteen years later, victims’ relatives from the group Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA used some of their $170 million settlement to fund the memorial. (Last year, another commemorative site opened at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.) This photo gallery offers an up-close look at the arduous labor of love, illustrating such daunting tasks as excavating one of the wings, later incorporated into the design. Parts of the wreckage remained in the sand when the work began (a testament to the remoteness of the crash site), and the gallery includes stirring images of loose, twisted aircraft seats and other debris. Other striking photos show how the group spent two months moving stones by hand to outline a circle 200 feet in diameter and then fill it in with rocks, leaving an empty space in the shape of the aircraft with remarkable accuracy. Broken airplane windows ring the circle, one for each of the 155 passengers and 15 crew members who perished.

Considering that Lonely Planet describes the Tenere as a classic “endless, empty desert,” the photo gallery will be the closest look most of us ever get of this amazing memorial.

Venice Landmarks Are Just Steps Away From Restored Hotel

Travelers often associate famous destinations around the world with iconic landmarks. In Paris, it’s the Eifel tower; Seattle has the space needle; New York has the Statue Of Liberty; and San Francisco is associated with the Golden Gate Bridge. Think “Venice” and the image of a gondola ride might come to mind. But during a recent visit to the Italian city, I was drawn to a different landmark not far from the canals.

The Gritti Palace hotel sits on the canal and gondolas park at its doorstep. Recently re-opened after an extensive restoration, this is a top shelf hotel in the Luxury Collection brand of properties with the expected level of service such a place normally brings. Unexpected though is the hotel’s proximity to major Venetian landmarks, most within walking distance.%Gallery-183946%

We expect nicely appointed rooms, snappy room service and a pleasant stay from a hotel that goes for about $1000 a night during peak season. Get that for a third of the price in the off-season and the value is undeniable.

Sitting right on the Grand Canal, the hotel is within walking distance to St. Marks Square and its attractions, shops, dining venues along with churches, art schools and museums, as we see in this photo gallery or live via the hotel’s 24/7 web cam.

[Image credit – Chris Owen]

Things you won’t see in Paris this holiday season: beggars

As tourists window shop in Paris this holiday season, they won’t find any more homeless people asking for change around some of the city’s most popular areas; the French government has issued a series of decrees that ban begging around Paris’ most popular tourist and Christmas shopping spots. According to the Guardian, the Champs Elyssés was the first Paris landmark to fall under the begging ban, with Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores and the area around the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens soon also deemed “no-go zones” for the country’s homeless.

The news outlet writes that interior minister Claude Guéant said the anti-begging decrees were part of a “merciless fight” against “Romanian criminality,” adding that Romanian criminals account for one in six appearances in Paris courts. To target the offenders, 33 Romanian police officers have been contracted to round up beggars around the Champs Elyssés alone.
The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, is unhappy with the new policies. He called the efforts a cheap “PR stunt” that targeted some of the city’s most well-off areas while brushing real problems in other neighborhoods under the rug. “Wanting to fight poverty by repression and fines is shocking at a time when the state isn’t fulfilling its obligations in housing vulnerable young people or providing emergency accommodation,” Delanoe told the news outlet.

5Pointz is coming down and it’s a shame

5Pointz probably won’t be around much longer. In case you haven’t heard, one of New York‘s finest art installments may be coming down for the sake of urban expansion: two 30 story apartment buildings in an increasingly hip neighborhood. And such seems to be the story in ever expanding cities like New York. What is good is not synonymous with what has longevity. Without generating a profit up to par with profit potential, certain things in New York, even landmarks, take a backseat to business. But this case is exceptional. This building, 5Pointz, is a work of art–one that should be preserved with the same respect we preserve all other great works of art. The problem is this: 5Pointz isn’t like other art.

5Pointz is a graffiti-clad building with a rotating roster of artists whose work is on display. Located in Long Island City, 5Pointz wasn’t far away from the Astoria apartment where I spent 7 years. I stumbled across the building the first time probably the same way many people do. I was riding the 7 train and I noticed a towering warehouse, vividly colorful against the drab skyline on what I remember to be a rather drab day. I seized the opportunity the next time I was in the neighborhood of the 7 train to exit, follow the overhead tracks, and find the building. To my surprise, there were a dozen or so other people there when I arrived, seeming just as curious as I was. They were taking photos and standing in awe of giant portraits. As I walked the perimeter of 5Pointz and passed by other admirers, I found myself speaking in a hushed voice just like everyone else there, just like I would in a museum. Clearly, there was something to be respected on the walls of 5Pointz.

%Gallery-132436%I found my way onto the roof of the building. The image of the city’s skyline from that rooftop, fogged over just ahead, is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

When I went back to 5Pointz the second time, I brought a friend with me. I expected to show her the same art on the walls I had seen the first time. Instead, it was all different. I soon learned that 5Pointz’s art is revolving art, that each piece of artwork that was ever painted on a wall of 5Pointz was intended to not last forever, but instead, perhaps, just a few weeks. I began taking all of my visiting friends to 5Pointz, looking forward to their respective visits since they marked my calendar with visits to 5Pointz. The art changed every time I walked around the building, and I walked around that building many times.

After spending 8 years in New York, I left the city with a fondness for 5Pointz no less tender than that first visit to 5Pointz. Any time someone visiting the city has asked me for off-the-beaten-path suggestions of what to do in New York, even now that I am living in Austin, I have instructed them to visit 5Pointz. I have told them which stop to get off the 7 train at, I have told them to just follow the overhead tracks. My father, my sister, my brother, my best friends… I took them all to that building. I even had a photo shoot there with my old band. And it really breaks my heart that others may now not receive the same opportunity we all had–the opportunity to experience 5Pointz.

The building’s owner, a Mr. Wolkoff, seems to appreciate art, but not enough to preserve this monumental landmark. A recent New York Times piece discussing the building’s fate reported that Wolkoff is willing to give the graffiti artists who call 5Pointz home a “rear wall” on the new structure. And, of course, a rear wall will never replace this positively special place, because the essence of 5Pointz is contained on that particular building, not a shining new structure. But Wolkoff is 74 years old. Preserving an old spray painted building certainly wouldn’t be the traditional thing to do, that is, so long as spray paint is considered an unbecoming art medium. But that’s the entire problem with this situation.

Spray paint, unfortunately for spray paint artists’ and art appreciators’ sake, is associated with vandalism, gang signs, and huffing. But does that affect the paint’s credibility as a viable art medium? Of course it doesn’t, but it certainly affects the perception the public has of the art medium. And so, consequently, a Facebook page dedicated to saving 5Pointz only has 1,171 likes (meanwhile, “Making up nicknames for people you don’t know but see all the time” has 1,494,837 likes). A petition circling around online to save 5Pointz has 11,000 signatures. How many signatures would that petition have if it were arguing to keep a publicly treasured oil painting from being destroyed? More, I’d bet.

All in all, the news of 5Pointz’s grim fate has upset me. Perhaps nothing will sway the minds of Wolkoff and the members of the Community Board. After all, history repeats itself and, after all, good things don’t seem to last in New York (remember CBGB?). But there are two things that I can do, small as they might be:

1. I urge you to visit 5Pointz while it’s still open. This page contains good directions on how to get there.

2. Allow me to share some of the photos I have from my personal trips to 5Pointz with you.

How to save NYC’s Tin Pan Alley: Five ideas for the buildings where musicians thrived.

The news that Tin Pan Alley’s half-dozen row houses [photo by edenpictures]may be torn down to make room for high rise apartments caught my attention for several reasons:

  • One–because a group of people are working to save the buildings by having them acheive historical landmark status.
  • Two–because 19th century buildings have more character than high rise apartments,
  • Three– because they have significance to Americana which means they have significance to tourists
  • Four–because Singapore almost destroyed all of its charm several years back by tearing down many colonial shop houses in favor of high rises until the Singapore government caught on that the shop houses offered charm. Tourists love charm. Charm can mean money. Several areas were earmarked for development where the shop houses were refurbished to create popular tourist destinations like Boat Quay and Clarke Quay–not to mention the streets in back of Orchard Road, one of the biggest commercial streets in Singapore.

My five suggestions for Tin Pan Alley’s salvation involve pepping up each building’s musical connection status by turning part of each building into a place that reflects Tin Pan Alley’s’ important history and contribution to American life.

Suggestion one: Turn one building into a music museum. The museum would have:

  • displays of instruments, photographs, and belongings of Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, George M. Cohan and others who got their start here
  • exhibits of publications, advertisements and sheet music
  • Interactive exhibits where people could try their hand at playing tunes, and composing
  • A small theater where a montage of movie scene clips that feature the music of these composers play and another film that shows the history of American music, similar to what is played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
  • Listening kiosks where people could listen to the tunes of the musicians who got their start at Tin Pan Alley. Also similar to what is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • an auditorium for talks and concerts
  • a gift shop that sells CDs, movies, and music related items

Suggestion two: Part of one building could house a restaurant with food named for the musical greats such as the Scott Joplin Burger, the Fats Waller Fries, and the George M. Cohan Cobb Salad.

Suggestion three: Next door to the museum and the restaurant could be a music academy where people of all ages can go for music instruction on a weekly basis –or for a week or weekend of intensive instruction. Song writing workshops could be offered as well. Always wanted to play the banjo? Here’s where.

Suggestion four: Part of another building could be turned into a B&B or hostel where people could stay for their musical journey

Suggestion five: One building could be earmarked as affordable housing for musicians. They would pay for rent but, they could reduce their rent by putting in hours at either the restaurant, the museum or the music academy as part of their payment. This could help keep NYC’s musical talent in Manhattan. You try living in an apartment in Manhattan on a musician’s salary.

Suggestion six: Any ideas? Here’s your chance to change history too. Who knows? Maybe someone will listen to us.

By the way, the top few floors of each building could still be used for housing for any New York City resident so that the people who now live in these buildings who are trying to preserve them have the ability to live where they love. Some of these folks might end up on the governing board of whatever foundation needs to be set up in order to help run the place.

And, here’s another reason to save the buildings. It seems to me, it would be a great American success story.

Didn’t the people who would be honored by such a place achieve the American Dream? What better way to show that the American Dream can happen than by having this small piece of Manhattan real estate showcase where dreams came true.

For more Tin Pan Alley information, check out Tin Pan Alley Project. It includes song lists to take you down memory lane.