Category Archives: On The Street

Ho Ho Ho Hum

I’ve been mulling the whole Christmas thing en route to work each day. The bus takes North Terrace, a gorgeous boulevard of historic buildings – the cultural hub of this pretty city – and yet not a single red bow or decorated store front. There’s not a thing to indicate that Australia is still one of the countries where Christmas is a big deal, celebrated or at least recognised by the majority of the population.

New York, in contrast  (yeah here she goes again) is a decorating dream come the holidays. It’s all out warfare among window stylists at the big department stores as they compete for the glitziest, most innovative and cleverest store windows.

ABC Carpet & Home, where a lovely old-school Santa greeted our children for many years, twinkles with gazillions of sparkly decorations, and Rockefeller Center is a winter wonderland, with the massive lit tree and ice-skating rink front and center. Even in Brownstone Brooklyn, there were pop-up nativity scenes, inflatable Santas and light-up deer in people’s front yards and outside stores.

Interestingly, we were the only Christian family at most of the annual Christmas parties we hosted in Brooklyn. There were Jews and Muslims, and then us. We were also often the only Christians at the Jewish Hannukah parties that coincided with the Christmas festivities.

None of it mattered. It was the holidays and everyone was merry in one way or another, for one reason or another.

But in lovely Adelaide, where most of us are celebrating the same holiday, there’s nary a wreath or a red bow in sight, let alone a nativity scene. I read with interest Susan Mitchell’s column It’s a Christmas dark age in Adelaide in Indaily last week. She said exactly what I was thinking. For all the waffle about making our city vibrant by attracting people to live, work and play in the CBD, the lights are out and apparently nobody’s home.

sad and sorry snowflakes, the lone and seasonally inappropriate ode to Christmas on Gouger Street

Even in the office where I work, there is little in the way of festive cheer. Admittedly I have been here only a year, but even so a couple of Christmas cards and some tinsel strung about our desks is about it. There’s no crazy office party since apparently some anti-drinking chap moved to a top job and outlawed fun, not that we would necessarily expect him to come party with the plebs.

I fondly recall working for gritty newspapers in the days of long, boozy Christmas lunches and gifts of wine or leg hams or hampers arriving for staff.  Even at stitched up Bloomberg in New York, where we worked very hard, we played hard too. In the old days before the boss became the City Mayor,  Bloomberg marked the holidays with an extravagant soiree for staff and their partners at the Museum of Natural History. Sushi and caviar were served aplenty from beneath the huge suspended whale skeleton. Those were the days.

We do have an annual social club lunch at my current workplace but  even that requires arm twisting to convince people to come, and after a couple of hours feasting, we dutifully return to work.

Maybe it’s something about the mercury soaring here at Christmas that makes decorating too sweaty a prospect. But it was hot when I was kid too and yet I fondly remember my mother taking me for dusk strolls around the neighbourhood to see Christmas trees lit up in people’s front windows. We had a massive holly tree in our front yard and people would pull up and ask to pick a bunch.

It was friendly and neighbourly – and Christmassy.

We have a wreath on our door this year and the kids had a blast hanging everything but the kitchen sink on our Christmas tree. But ours is the only decorated house I have noticed on our street.

We do live in an unusually aged street but still – don’t people turn it on a bit for the grandchildren? Even the local shopping mall (if one is allowed to call Burnside Village a shopping mall …?) isn’t particularly festive. And as our kids noted when they visited Santa, he was kind of over it. He didn’t ask the obligatory ‘have you been good’ or ‘what would you like for Christmas’ questions, but rather chugged kids through for the obligatory photo op.

So what gives? Are we all hamstrung by the threat of the global financial rumblings finally reaching our shores, or does the prospect of a holiday that unites families to gather and feast just not do it for us anymore?

For the record, we will be gathering and feasting and hopefully having a lot of laughs on Christmas day. We light a candle or two in honour of the Jewish Hannukah celebrations which have just ended, we may even light one for Kwanza – the African American holiday that coincides with Christmas – and we recognize Eid for our Muslim friends. Never let it be said that we don’t like a party.



Peter Drew Takes Street Art to Gallery + Back

This could be the year of Peter Drew.

Most Adelaideans don’t know the name but chances are they’ve seen his work all over the city, from the huge posters of criminal mug shots to the Icarus motif atop a prominent city building, his personal favourite.

Peter has just opened his final solo exhibition at A P Bond Gallery in Stepney and in less than a week he’ll take part in the opening of South Australia Illustrated: From the Street at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

It’s not every street artist who finds their anti- institutional s scrawls hanging in the State’s premiere arts institution, but in keeping with the rebellious overtones of graffiti, this won’t be any regular exhibition.

There’s a twist.

Peter has donned his curatorial hat and invited 12 fellow artists to `respond’ to an unfinished portrait of Adelaide’s founder, Colonel William Light, which he will turn frame in heavy antique frames ready for the Gallery walls.

They’ll be there, beautifully lined up when the exhibition opens, but throughout the exhibition Peter will take a portrait and hang it someplace around Adelaide.

He’ll give clues on its location using social media, such as his Facebook page.

“It is really great that the Art Gallery has agreed to this – it turns the whole exhibition on its head,” said the softly spoken artist.

But it will be nicked, won’t it? And that is the whole point.

”It’s an experiment in opportunism,” said Peter.

“The idea of theft and opportunism – that impulse hasn’t changed since colonial times. If there’s something there and people think that they can get away with taking it, they will. There is definitely a link between colonialism and opportunism.”

Even exhibiting at the `big end’ of the city, as the Gallery and its North Terrace cultural neighbours are known, can’t curb the edge of a street artist.

Around town though, Peter – an Adelaide born and educated visual artist and writer – is best known for his uncommissioned art for the urban landscape – or street art – which can be found not only on home turf but around Berlin, Glasgow and London.

Criminal Element

Peter says that having made illegal street art for years without being caught, he started to forget that it was a crime.

“When I was finally arrested I began to think more seriously about its criminality. This interest grew into a side project, which quickly blew out into the largest street art campaign I’ve undertaken.”

Adelaide’s Forgotten Outlaws grew from Peter searching police documents at the South Australian State Records. Drawn to photos from the early 1920s, he began choosing mug shots based mostly on the immediate impact of the image.

“Whether through their defiant pride, amused irreverence or shamed humiliation – some faces drew me in,” said Peter.

And so began his self-funded, ‘uncommissioned’ public project. Peter pasted some 42 black and white posters, each standing 2.5 meters, on naked city walls and sides of buildings.

Initially he worked at night, rather like the criminals he iconised, but soon realized it would be safer during the day dressed as a legitimate worker.

“When I donned the high vis vest and went about my business I didn’t feel like a criminal, I felt as thought I was performing a public good,” he said.


While the man of the street has generally enjoyed Peter’s campaign, Adelaide City Council eventually traced the posters back to him and struck a deal.

The Council would stop removing the work so long as Peter legitimised the project through a ’pilot project’ scheme and removed the criminals’ surnames to protect surviving relatives.

Peter said he was just happy that people got to see the posters, as he’d intended. So impressed with his work were the folks at History SA that they let Peter loose on their photo archive.

He chose 10 portraits of everyday, extraordinary South Australians from the 1870s to the 1930s for use as part of the About Time: South Australian History Festival, which ran through May 2012.

Come August, Peter is heading abroad to study writing criticism at the Glasgow School of Art for a year or two. He wants to write a book, not surprisingly, about street art – comparing it to other artistic movements throughout history that were viewed as anti-institutional.

And while he’s away, he says he may have the urge to express himself artistically on a blank wall.

“I’m not sure that I can stop,” said Peter.

Peter Drew’s solo exhibition All you need is LIKE is currently running at AP Bond Gallery. South Australia Illustrated open at the Art Gallery of South Australia 1 June, 2012.


Smith St Closings Create Ghostly Carroll Gardens’ Block

They say the economy is on the mend, the worst is over, people are spending again. THEY clearly don’t live near my block in brownstone Brooklyn, where store after store on Smith Street, between Degraw and Douglass streets, has shuttered or moved on.

In just a few recent weeks, Stinky Bklyn has laid out plans to move further along Smith Street to bigger digs, while neighboring Salsa Salon shut up shop. Andie Woo, a quirky underthings store next to Oaxaca Tacos, also faded from existence. I should have seen it coming when I was in there on a Saturday afternoon in late February, taking advantage of the huge half-off sale. When I returned about a week later, the windows were papered over, the signs were down: it was all over.

Adios Andie Woo

There may be one bright spot amid the shutterings though. I’m told the Andie Woo site is poised to reopen but not as a clothing store. Word is that it will be a deli similar to the famed Russ and Daughters on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, selling smoked fish and other deli treats. There’s no news on an opening date yet, but I’ll be tracking this one with bagel in hand.

Meantime, there are now almost half as many boarded up shops or ones for rent on the Carroll Gardens block as there are occupied businesses. On the side closest to Court Street, for example, there are 10 storefronts, including the big empty lot on the corner that promises to become some sort of sprawling residential/commercial development, and only four actually in operation, Refinery and Video Free Brooklyn among them.

Adding to the ghost-town feel, most of the stores are closed by 10pm or earlier, so it makes for a dark, desolate strip heading to or from the subway.

As recently as 2009, the same block boasted the restaurant Patois, which has long been credited as a pioneer in getting Smith Street going. When Patois closed after  more than a decade, speculation brewed that it would reopen across the street, but it never happened and the bistro took its business to Manhattan’s Little Italy instead.

Provence en Boite opened a few years ago on the corner of Smith and Degraw, and the owners said they added sidewalk tables, a bench and flowerpots with hopes of creating a bustling corner and rejuvenating the block. Then came Stinky Bklyn and Oaxaca Tacos, and the block did indeed seem brighter. Thankfully Oaxaca’s original spot – now one of three in Brooklyn and Manhattan – seems set to stay. And Provence en Boite followed up almost a year ago with spin-off  JB’s Burger.

But “it is scary,” said Leslie Bernat, who with her husband Jean-Jacques Bernat owns and runs Provence en Boite and JB’s Burger. “It is hard with the economy like it is, to know what is going to happen next. It worries us very much.”

Not to mention elsewhere along Smith Street where mom and pop stores have been closing for years because of soaring rents and the ever-changing demographic of the neighborhood. They’ve been replaced in many cases with cookie cutter ice-cream shops and clones of stores already across the Gowanus in Park Slope.

The comic book haven Rocketship and the Big Apple Deli across the street both closed recently,  the doomed restaurant of many names – Banania, Porchetta, Carniceria  – hasn’t been able to find a niche that will keep it open, and Brooklyn Camo, one of my personal favorites for rain boots and hiking socks,  shutdown awhile back as did my drycleaner, which was replaced with another innocuous deli.

Add to the list the  Brooklyn Indie Market near Carroll Park, which has a For Rent sign on the weathered tent. They announced last month that after four years on Smith Street they won’t be back, even once the weather improves. And this is just a handful of the businesses that have gone in the few years I’ve lived in the neighborhood.

Giddy Up on Carroll St Bridge

I’ve been wondering about this quaint sign hanging from the Carroll Street Bridge since I first noticed it late last year on one of my daily walks over the Gowanus Canal.

I cross this bridge four times a day – to and from my children’s school – and cars zoom by, and cyclists go any direction they want. Most, I am guessing have never even noticed the sign, which hangs high above this New York City landmark, and most certainly wouldn’t slowdown to avoid a paltry $5 fine!

It turns out it’s a neat reproduction by the DOT of an original sign that hung over the Carroll Street Bridge back when horses and carriages not lead-footed car drivers plodded from Bond to Nevins Street. Five dollars was, no doubt, a lot of money then.

For fact freaks, the Carroll Street Bridge was opened to traffic in 1889 by the Brooklyn Department of City Works (when Brooklyn was a city). It’s one of the oldest bridges in New York City and one of only two retractile, or sliding, bridges left in New York, and the oldest of four left in the US. There is a retractile bridge at Borden Avenue in Queens and two others in Boston.

Graffiti Be Gone

Spotted on a recent stroll up Carroll Street towards Third Avenue – the Graffiti-Free NYC  truck removing spray-painted scribblings from a residential building. I had never seen the truck in the neighborhood and I certainly wasn’t aware of the City’s Graffiti Free NYC Program, which offers free graffiti removal to properties throughout the five boroughs.

 If you want a graffiti-busting van to come cleanup your site, you can call 311 or fill out a Forever Graffiti Free form. Typically, a cleaning crew will show up within about 35 days after the City is notified there’s a problem, and either repaint or power wash away the graffiti.  If you want to do it yourself, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Paint Program will provide supplies and paints for community-based and volunteer groups to plan and execute their own cleanup projects.

I’ve written before how much I like topical or artistic graffiti but sadly much of it polluting local walls is just juvenile vandalism, and for that ilk there’s Graffiti Free NYC.