Last weekend we had the first sunny and warm days of spring. I visited community gardens with my friend Katy and our phone cameras. We stopped by 6BC Botanical Garden first. This garden began in 1981 and is a lovingly cared for and peaceful place. In the book Community Gardens of the East Village, gardener Cary York says, “One thing they did design wise that was so important was that someone wanted to build the raised boxes, and Diana said “Don’t do it, don’t do it. Well, if you’re going to do it, do them on a diagonal.” So suddenly, the garden had this whole diagonal thing which is so nice because it’s against the grid. Little by little people started lifting up the boxes and letting the soil be in the soil.”

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film

photos taken with the Hipstamatic app using John S Lens and Dixie Film




Our next stop was the Sixth & B Garden. So many gardeners were out clearing the debris of winter and turning the warmed soil. I remember the group of mothers I used to hang out with when we brought our children to play in that garden. I ran into two of them that day. Even though we only socialized in the gardens, there is an intimacy to knowing someone that long and seeing their children now grown. I was interviewed by one of those children, a 20 year old named John, who I remember as a shirtless tow-headed toddler in baggy shorts, playing in the garden. He was doing a school project about community gardens. I was happy to see that the playhouse was still there.

Sixth & B Garden

Sixth & B Garden



the playhouse

the playhouse


loisaida in hipstamatic

I’m happy for photography apps and camera phones. Some people might say,  “oh, there is no skill in that, no art, its just point and shoot”. Who cares? What is art? I’m just having fun.

I took these photos with my Iphone and the Hipstamatic app. (this is not a sponsored post). I love Hipstamatic because it reminds me of film. I do know real film. I learned to edit movie film, with a splicer. I touched it. My best time was helping a friend organize the edit of his 16mm feature film. We worked in his studio in a loft in Tribeca back when artists could afford lofts in Tribeca. We worked till late in the night, listening to good music. There were many canvas bins on wheels with metal frames. On the frames were hooks where we hung the ribbons of film. Each ribbon was a numbered scene. Some were short strips, others so long they became coiled bundles in the canvas bins. We spliced the scene ribbons together by hand. You had to clean the film first and when you pulled the splicing tape over the film, you had to make sure the two cut pieces were straight and as close together as possible to avoid a cut that the viewer would notice. Once you’d laid the splicing tape down on the film, you rubbed your finger over it to smooth all the air bubbles out. It was like working with clay.

Hipstamatic lets you switch up their digital lenses and films. You choose the lens and you choose the film, and you take the shot. You wait “for the print to develop”. Then you get what you get, except faster than if you had film developed. I like the sometimes unexpected results when you see the “print”. The Hipstamatic Field Guide illustrates the different film and lenses available.

I took most of these photographs on East 7th Street between Ave C. (Loisaida Avenue) and Ave D. It is a block of stately homes from the 1800’s that is lined with very old street trees. I used the Hipstamatic Tinto 1884 Lens (befitting of my neighborhood) and both the C-Type Plate film, which has a color wash to it and the D-Type Plate film that is black & white. This lens and film combination was tricky with light. Too much sunlight and the contrast was extreme. Too little light and you got a blotchy photo. The best result was on a bright but overcast day.



Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park




Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park

the magical garden on east 6th street

There are many spots in New York City where you can feel transported to another place and sometimes even another time. Mostly it happens in indoor spaces. You walk into a tiny Vietnamese restaurant and all of the sudden you could be in Hanoi, eating Pho from a steaming bowl on a stainless steel counter under the florescent lights. Or you could be in an indoor market examining the baskets full of guava and fresh tamarind pods as you feel up the avocados trying to find two that are ripe enough for today’s dinner and you could easily be in Mexico City. Rarely can you be transported from an outdoor space, because New York is so very New York.

6BC Garden in all its glory

6BC Garden in all its glory

There is a community garden on East 6th Street that does transport me – to England I go. It is what I imagine a garden would look like in someone’s big backyard. It is not manicured like a formal garden of the upper classes, but exuberant and lush. I read once that there are people in England who like to tend their gardens in the nude. I think that it is the kind of garden a naked gardener would have. A wannabee formal garden that is a tiny bit wild.

A tiny lily pond

A tiny lily pond

When the gardeners took over the abandoned spaces in Loisaida and began to transform them, they salvaged the rubble. They used the brick and the broken pieces of ornate cornices carved in brownstone and limestone from the fallen buildings. The brick paths in the garden and the flowerbed edges are from pieces of fallen tenements. The buildings live on nestled in the good dirt.

a bench for contemplation

a bench for contemplation

brick path

brick path

good news – MoRUS opens

Last Saturday was a beautiful day for a neighborhood party. A celebration much deserved. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) finally opened its doors on Loisaida Avenue. They suffered a setback because of Hurricane Sandy’s flooding. But even while managing their own clean-up during the blackout, they were still serving food and providing bike-powered cellphone charging to the community. This is the spirit of Loisaida, a coming together to make impossible things happen – our history. Good news.



lovely hardworking volunteers

lovely hardworking volunteers


Founder Laurie Mittelmann with Adam Purple

Founder Laurie Mittelmann with Adam Purple

Artist Marlis Momber with Millie

Artist Marlis Momber with Millie

Founder Bill DiPaola

Founder Bill DiPaola


Visit the MoRUS facebook page to see more photos and other blogs posts.

marlis momber – is ours

I have known Marlis since I started working on the homestead. Her building which is across the street from ours, was the first homestead building to be completed and occupied on our block. They were all moved in when we were just getting started pulling out the burnt beams. Their building was the proof that it could be done and it shone like a beacon for us. They gave us electricity and smiles of encouragement. I watched Marlis’s son grow up and she saw my daughters born and raised. It is unusual in New York to be so rooted to a place, to a particular block and also to be surrounded by people who are just as rooted. Long-time neighbors. Most New Yorkers move around. It is as though we are living the small village life even though we are in the middle of a giant metropolis – the so-called concrete jungle.

Marlis was born in the bombed out city of Berlin WWII so when she came to Loisaida in the 1970’s this was a familiar landscape. Marlis Momber’s photographs are full of soul. Yes, they have good composition and are well-crafted and her prints are exquisite. But aside from being an artful photograph, they reek of the soul. She is not a mere documentarian or onlooker – Marlis captures her subjects down to the essence. We are hers and Marlis is ours.

Below is a 10 minute clip of her 1978 film Viva Loisaida. To purchase the full DVD or prints contact her via her photography website, to see more photos go to www.vivaloisaida.org.

I have been very lucky that Marlis has photographed my family for many years.

the homestead – 1984

the homestead occupied

Marlis’s photo of my daughter Camelia with Loisaida poet Jorge Brandon, El Coco Que Habla

Here is my portrait of the artist taken this past spring at one of her exhibitions.

Marlis Momber by Ileana

harvest arts festival in loisaida’s gardens

Loisaida’s community gardens were abuzz this past weekend as the first Harvest Arts Festival kicked off. Twenty-four of the forty community gardens in Loisaida participated with music, poetry, theater, films and workshops on art, health, fun and environmental concerns.

El Sol Brillante Garden on East 12th St. Harvest Arts Festival.

Loisaida has more community gardens than anywhere else in the city. The gardens are like little kingdoms unto themselves, so different are they from one another. Some are tiny verdant jewels tucked in between narrow tenements with gravel paths and tranquil shade gardens. Others are sprawling meadows with chickens and rabbits roaming free. Some have stages for performance, outdoor film screenings, and yoga. Others have children’s play equipment, tree houses and sandboxes. There are those with individual garden plots –  some sprouting flowers and others growing food. From vacant rubble-filled lots, the gardens were created by people who banded together and occupied the discarded land – seizing the opportunity that the abandonment had created. Today, they are still cared for and grown by dedicated volunteers.

The 1st Harvest Arts Festival was organized by Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens (LUNGS). Here is an excerpt from the program notes written by organizer Charles Krezell: “If you want to study democracy in action, don’t go to Washington, join a garden in Loisaida. These gardens are the purest form of democracy we have in this city. We are groups of people who come together for mutual purpose and try to sort out our differences. Each garden a mini-experiment in government, we come up with our own rules. Some work through consensus, some compromise, some are dictatorships, some oligarchies. They are frustrating and fascinating, dysfunctional and utilitarian all at once. There is social unrest and class warfare over where to plant the dahlias…”

6th & B Garden has a vibrant events program. http://www.6bgarden.org

The festival was so rich with activity that I actually covered only a sliver of what took place.  Every garden I made it to had lots of food. A celebration of the harvest in the ancient way, with food and friends and community.

Art Rumble outside of Orchard Alley Garden

I went to a workshop on the Bokashi Method of recycling food waste for fertilizer at a beautiful corner garden on 12th St. They have a slot in the fence where folks drop off their food waste and they turn it into good soil with this method. They are now recycling tons more food waste than with the basic composting method and their garden’s soil is rich, black and teeming with earth worms.

Bokashi Workshop

fermented food waste for the gardens

We then headed to La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Garden where they had a workshop going on about creating mud balls using the same technique of nurturing micro-organisms to clean polluted waterways.

Mudballs and Millie

La Plaza Cultural Garden – Haystack fun

Seed saving envelopes workshop and buttons for sale at 6th & B Garden

Grilling at El Sol Brillante Garden

The Campos Garden was full of whimsical “Litterbugs” made from plastic waste. They also had a really good spread of food there.

The cold snap and rain on Sunday made things fluid and performers moved to gardens with shelters. 9th and C Community Garden was one of those.

It was great to hear the honeyed voice of Odetta Hartman, a Loisaida girl accompanied by Billy Aukstik

Finally, I was lucky enough to encounter the renowned jazz musician Giuseppe Logan sitting in El Jardin del Paraiso playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the soft October rain.

Giuseppi Logan

ham fish in hipstamatic

I call it the Loisaida Country Club. It is Hamilton Fish Park on Pitt Street and East Houston – also known as the Pitt St. Pool or Ham Fish for short. It is an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a park with basketball courts, playgrounds and a Beaux-Arts structure housing a community center designed in 1898 by Carrère & Hastings, the architects of the New York Public Library.

Hamilton Fish Pool in Hipstamatic: Lens: John S, Film: Blanko

Hamilton Fish clock – Lens: John S, Film: Ina 1969

At the start of the summer, right after the public schools let out, the Hamilton Fish pool opens and you see clusters of children and teens beating a path to the pool in brightly colored swimsuits and flip flops, or on their way back in the late afternoon with wet towels slung around their shoulders, their faces sun-kissed and relaxed.

Bike Parking – Lens: Helga Viking, Film: Blanko

Outdoor Showers – Lens: Hornbecker, Film: Alfred Infrared

The pool, like all the other city pools has a very civilized program in the summer for adult swim – hours for purely laps, no playing or floating around. I am a big fan of the Early Bird swim and I will only miss it when there is thunder or a downpour and they close the pool.

Lens: Matty ALN, Film: Blanko

Since I’ve never been able to still my thoughts enough for meditation, swimming is the closest I’ve been able to get to it. The smell of chlorinated water signals pleasure to my brain – a Pavlovian response. The 50 meters length at Hamilton Fish is a blissfully long stretch to swim without having to turn. Plenty of time to enjoy the sight of the sun ripples in the turquoise blue water and as you turn your head to breathe, the dark green gingko trees that frame the lifeguards in their orange suits under their orange umbrellas. The rhythm of my strokes and the sound of the bubbles of my exhaling breath, gets me to thinking in a slow and focused way.

Lens: Hornbecker, Film: Ina 1982

Lens: Lucifer VI, Film: Alfred Infrared

I run into a lot of my neighbors at the Loisaida Country Club. Some are swimming friends that I only run into at the pool year after year. One summer when I missed weeks of swimming, one of my swimming friends actually hunted down my phone number to call to see if I was okay. There is a comforting routine to it all. Swimmers come at the same time every morning and mostly swim in the same lanes. Scott always does sun salutations before his swim. Robert likes the water icy and complains when it’s too warm. I asked Barbara who bikes over from Williamsburg why she doesn’t go to the newly renovated McCarren pool. Isn’t it an Olympic sized pool, I ask? Yes, said Barbara, “But they make you swim the short way, 25 meters”. That’s stupid, I responded. “Yes, it is”, says Barbara, “25 meters is indoor pool”.

Lens: John S, Film: Blanko

All the photos in this post were shot with the Hipstamatic app. I love it because it is like the old film cameras in both effect and the delightful surprise of the results. A great resource is Schmutzie’s Hipstamatic Lens, Film and Pak Guide.

MoRUS, the museum of reclaimed urban space

A very exciting project is underway in Loisaida – a new living history museum that will focus on how the community came together to reclaim abandoned buildings and empty lots and created homes, cultural spaces and lush gardens in what was known as the “Take Back the Land Movement” of the late 70s and 80s. Check out the fantastic video and donate if you wish to get the museum up and running.

My daughter Camelia appears in the beginning of the video when she was little. She is the girl in the pink jacket with purple wings in the Jardin del Paraiso community garden.

Camelia’s tattoo. The girl has roots.

These previous posts have more information on the history. The Start of the Homestead and Pigeon Wars.