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New York City

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In the last few weeks we have been subjected to a constant bombardment of tragic news. The horrific mass killings in Las Vegas is just the latest. We have lived through reports of the sequential hurricanes that have killed, maimed and destroyed lives and property in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. We have agonized for the men, women and children caught in the Mexican earthquakes. And this latest horror of crowd homicide is the worst because it is not a paroxysm of the natural world, something we have to accept, but the act of a crazed human against hundreds of other innocent humans. Imagine the concertgoers’ happy anticipation for an evening of music under the stars with lovers or family only to be killed by a sniper’s bullets. And why?

We ran away from news of the carnage the other night and took refuge in art. The glorious embrace of Giacomo Puccini and his soaring arias of “La Bohème,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, welcomed us.

Puccini, you may well know, is considered one of the two most famous Italian opera composers of the 19th century, the other being Giuseppe Verdi. What I didn’t know is that he was the offspring of a musical dynasty in Lucca that included his father and the fathers preceding them as far back as his great-great-grandfather. All of these ancestors studied music at Bologna, wrote music for the church and, aided by their genes and family connections, were distinguished in their time.

Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” premiering in 1884, when he was 26, was well enough received, and his subsequent “Manon Lescaut” was a triumph. His personal life, however, was as riveting as his librettos. He eloped with his married, former piano student at the risk of being shunned. They did eventually marry, after another husband killed her womanizing husband. By coincidence, Puccini’s opera premiered the same week as Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff,” and talk began of Puccini being the natural heir to Verdi. At least that was what George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said.

Puccini’s next three operas are among the most popular and most often produced: “La Bohème,” “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly.”

When “La Bohème” premiered in Turin in 1896, Arturo Toscanini conducted it, and it was immediately popular. The story is of four young artists, all starving and freezing as they work in a garret in Paris and experience the pleasures and pains of young love. The opera is at turns joyful with the energy of youth and tragic with the premature death from tuberculosis of Mimi, the seamstress, and Rodolfo’s love. As a young man in Milan, Puccini lived the life he wrote about, once sharing a single herring with three others, as portrayed in the opera.

Puccini almost died in a car accident before finishing “Madama Butterfly” but then went on to complete what is now one of the most loved operas in the world. “Tosca” followed; then “La Fanciulla del West,” a plot set in America; “La Rondine;” and a three-act opera, including “Gianni Schicchi,” which contains my favorite aria, “O mio babbino caro.” “Turandot” was his final opera, finished after his death by his associates from his sketches, and offering the memorable, “Nessun dorma.”

Publicity about his personal life continued when his wife accused their maid of having an affair with Puccini, who was known to wander off the reservation. The maid then committed suicide, and an autopsy revealed that she had died a virgin. Puccini’s wife was accused of slander, found guilty and sentenced to five months in jail; but a payment by Puccini spared her that experience.

Ultimately 11 of Puccini’s operas are among the 200 most performed operas in the world, and the abovementioned three are in the top 10. Only Verdi and Mozart have had more operas performed. By his death in 1924, Puccini had earned $4 million from his works.

I hope this excursion in art has helped you, as it did me, to escape at least briefly from the omnipresent bad news.

Owl Hill estate is located south of Sunken Meadow State Park in Fort Salonga. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

Standing for decades as the hamlet’s best-kept secret, an old, secluded manor nestled within a sprawling stretch of property in Fort Salonga has come out of hiding — with a price tag of $6.45 million.

The Owl Hill estate, located at 99 Sunken Meadow Road, spans 27.63 acres and is the largest parcel of 1-acre residential-zoned land in Suffolk County. It is up for sale for the first time in more than six decades. It’s now the most expensive property in Fort Salonga.

Owl Hill estate, a 6,500-square-foot home in Fort Salonga, was built at the turn of the 19th century and includes features such as a library. Photo from Douglas Elliman Real Estate

The 6,500-square-foot home, whose construction began in 1897 and doors opened in 1903, sits surrounded by a serene haven of wooded forest and towering oak trees. The house has been occupied, and maintained, by the same Manhattan-based family for more than half a century as a summer and weekend residence. Maya Ryan, the current owner, who was unable to be reached for comment, recently decided it was time to pass the property onto another family or developer — according to Owl Hill’s listing agent Kelley
Taylor, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Taylor said she’s lived around the corner from the property for more than 20 years and never heard of it until recently.

“That’s where the ‘hidden’ comes from in hidden gem,” Taylor said, calling the Owl Hills house one of a kind. “It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

The palatial estate, which the listing agent compared to Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay, is only 50 miles from New York City and contains more than 20 acres of completely untouched land. There hasn’t been a single renovation to the property since the 1940s when its
occupants expanded the kitchen.

The interior of the home speaks to the architectural elegance of a bygone era with original tiger oak and mahogany hardwood floors. There are five en suite master bedrooms and three staff bedrooms, with a soaring fireplace in each, as well as an expansive music/living room, a wood-paneled dining room and a massive basement. Outside, there’s a wrap-around porch and a two-car garage, all within what Taylor calls a magical forest.

It’s pretty remarkable — like nothing you’d expect to see in Suffolk County or on Long Island. It’s never been developed on.”

—Kelley Taylor

As for potential buyers, she said she’s seen a majority of interest from developers, including one evaluating the property as the site of a 55 and better community. But, she said, the owner has preserved  3.75 acres of the property under New York State’s Transfer of Development Rights.

“A big family would certainly love the generousness of the estate, as would anyone who appreciates the particular beauties of well-made historic homes,” said Dawn Watson, public relations manager at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “It’s quite extraordinary and the parklike property is expansive and lush.”

In March, the Town of Smithtown and the county raised a $1 million grant to be used to preserve a portion of the Owl Hill property for open space.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske said although the property has been around so long, there still isn’t a lot of information in regards to its historical details.

“Owl Hill is another example of beautiful architecture in Smithtown for which the architect, to my knowledge, is as yet unknown,” Geske said. “This is the kind of house that deserves that kind of research attention because it’s so special with regards to interior detail and its location, built high on the hills of Fort Salonga.”

have hundreds of new friends I’ve never met, and a profound appreciation for the people who created them or shared their lives.

I recently attended my first BookExpo at the Javits Center in New York City, where I was surrounded by booksellers, librarians, agents, book publishers and authors including Stephen King, James Patterson and John Grisham, with numerous budding luminaries in the mix.

A highlight for me was a panel of children’s book authors, which included actress Isla Fisher, who has starred in movies including “Wedding Crashers” and “Definitely, Maybe.” While I was intrigued to see Ms. Fisher in person, the other authors owned the stage, as Fisher readily admitted that she wasn’t a writing peer to her fellow panelists.

Jason Reynolds, an African-American writer for middle-grade and young adult novels, electrified the audience.

He talked about how he used to visit his great Aunt Blanche in South Carolina, where the sun was so scorching it burned his neck. His aunt, who was 85, sat on her hot porch, smoking cigarettes and watching the children.

Aunt Blanche planted a pecan tree — as he said, a “pea can” — when she was 4. The tree had become enormous by the time Reynolds was a child, providing shade for the younger crowd.

Reynolds, a 2016 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature with “Ghost,” suggested that books offered the kind of shade he desperately needed, providing relief from the heat.

Reynolds asked himself, “What if I get to be the pecan tree?”

Jennifer Weiner, meanwhile, has ventured from the world of adult fiction and “Good in Bed” to writing for a younger audience, which includes her recent book, “The Littlest Bigfoot.”

Weiner said she does much of her writing in the equivalent of a large closet in her home, although she completed “half of a book waiting in a carpool line.”

Dutch author Marieke Nijkamp shared some insights into her latest book “Before I Let Go,” which is about a girl named Corey who loses her best friend Kyra.

Nijkamp, with fans waiting in a long line for the blue-haired author’s signature, said she “definitely goes for a walk right after I kill a character.”

While circling the Javits Center exhibits, I bumped into Owen King. He is the son of acclaimed author Stephen King, and is promoting a book he wrote with his father called “Sleeping Beauties,” in which all the women but one in a small Appalachian town become wrapped in a cocoon when they go to sleep. If someone awakens them, they become violent. That leaves the men without the civilizing and calming influence of women. It sounded to me like an adult version of William Golding’s classic “Lord of the Flies.”

In describing the novel, Owen King said he enjoyed the time writing and editing the book with his father. He described how a King dinner time activity includes coming up with story ideas, many of which never see the light of day.

I asked Owen, who was clad in an untucked plaid shirt and looks remarkably like his father, what caught his eye at the Expo. He highlighted a book by Steve Steinberg about a Yankees pitcher named Urban Shocker. King said he loved the name and found the story compelling, about a pitcher who went 18-6 in the Yankees’ famous 1927 season despite battling heart disease. I picked up a copy, which was autographed for my son, and I look forward to learning about Shocker’s world.

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The best way to get some people motivated is to tell them what they can’t do. I learned that many years ago.

Back in junior high school, I was trying out for the basketball team.

With about a thousand other people — okay, maybe it was 50, but it felt like a thousand — hoping to make the team, I appeared at the gym after school. I remember enjoying basketball from the time I could barely throw the ball high enough to clear the basket.

As I got older, I shot up quickly in height. I was never a particularly great shooter. My five-foot, seven-inch frame, which puts me below the eye level of many of my teenage children’s friends today, seemed taller back then.

I could and did grab rebounds, fight for loose balls and play aggressive defense. At the time, we had three days of cuts. The first day, my name appeared on the “come-back-tomorrow” list, which meant that I was still one of the chosen few.

The second day, after an intense and physical tryout, I knew I’d made the list, because the coach nodded several times when I blocked shots and seemed pleased that I raced up the floor to poke the ball away from someone who thought he had a breakaway layup.

It was during lunch on the third day, before the final cut, that I lost my mojo. I was sitting with one of my friends, whom we’ll call John. Through the bits of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that were sticking to his braces, he told me he heard some other kids talking about me on the way to school.

“Oh yeah, what did they say?” I asked.

“They said you were still on the list of players who might make the basketball team,” John said.

I beamed. The final cut would only eliminate two or three more players, which meant that I just had to keep doing what I was doing earlier in the week and I’d make it.

“They also said you travel every time you shoot a layup,” he offered.

“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling as if he punched me in the gut.

“They said you didn’t belong on the team.”

Throughout the afternoon, in my head, I heard the echo of the words “didn’t belong.” When I stepped on the court that day, my feet barely moved and I didn’t even attempt a shot. Not surprising, I didn’t make the team.

Would I be in the NBA if John hadn’t planted the “you-can’t-do-it” bug in my ear? Not a chance. Would I have made the team? Well, maybe!

About 15 years later, I got a job at Bloomberg News. At the time, it was a growing news service and a securities trading device that refused to accept second place in anything. The facilities were magnificent, complete with fish tanks on every floor and free food for employees and guests, which included select company like Tom Hanks and Ed Koch, who came to the “Charlie Rose” show.

When I got the job, I overheard some of my former colleagues discussing how I didn’t belong at Bloomberg. This time, rather than slink away, I was determined to prove them wrong. While it was a challenging job, I enjoyed the opportunity not only to provide Bloomberg with relevant stories but also to compete against some of the best journalists in New York City. Early in my tenure at Bloomberg, I won a deadline writing award.

I’m not suggesting people pour cold water on each other’s aspirations through some misdirected tough love approach. I would, however, urge people not to listen to the nattering nabobs of negativism, a term coined by William Safire and shared by former Vice President Spiro Agnew.

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John Corpac. File photo by Bill Landon

In 21 years, not one Ward Melville football player has been invited to compete in the Empire Challenge. This year three Patriots will get the chance to put on the pads one more time.

John Corpac, Eddie Munoz and Dominic Pryor were chosen by the coaches of the Long Island team, all of which led their squads to county titles this year, to play in the game that pits Long Island all-stars against the best of New York City.

“It feels amazing knowing I’ll be able to suit up once more in a sport that I’ve loved since I was young,” Pryor said. “I couldn’t be more proud to represent Ward Melville, especially after what we accomplished this season.”

Dominic Pryor. File photo by Bill Landon

The three standouts were part of a Patriots team that upset No. 1 Lindenhurst in the Division I semifinals to make it to the county championship for the first time in 30 years.

“After losing in counties,” Corpac said, “this game is a redemption game for me and my teammates that made it, to show that we belonged where we were.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said his three athletes, who were named All-State by the New York State Sportswriters Association, don’t need redemption, because they’ve shown they belong among the best of the best.

“They are just excellent athletes who love football, and combined those attributes with a willingness to go the extra mile — whether it was sacrificing their bodies and taking a big hit, or tackling a larger athlete, it didn’t matter — they laid it all on the line to help our team be successful,” he said. “And they’re a huge part of why we made it to the county championship this season.”

Corpac, a wide receiver and free safety who signed to play for Stony Brook University this fall, finished last season with a team-high 13 touchdowns through 11 games, four of which were on kickoff returns. The All-County and All-State honoree racked up 378 yards on 27 receptions, and rushed for 131 more and one touchdown. In total, he had 1,110 yards thanks to 532 added kickoff return yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Corpac had 58 tackles, 38 solo, and two interceptions.

While Munoz and Pryor will be playing lacrosse next year, at Stony Brook and Hofstra University, respectively, the two have also battled for big numbers at Ward Melville.

Munoz gained 454 yards on 37 receptions as a wide receiver, and rushed for 90, ending the year with eight touchdowns. He intercepted the ball twice as a strong safety, and made 57 total tackles, 37 solo.

“We put in a lot of hard work, but our teammates also helped us stand out, because without a good team we wouldn’t have been selected,” Munoz said. “Football to me is all about being tough and giving it your all on every play.”

Eddie Munoz. File photo by Bill Landon

Pryor ended his senior season with a team-high 604 receiving yards, averaging a team-high 16.3 yards per catch on his 37 receptions, rushed for 88 yards, returned kickoffs for 111 and even passed for 167. The wide receiver and defensive back also had two interceptions and made 28 tackles.

“Dom and Eddie are great examples of multi-sport athletes, and demonstrate how competing in multiple sports is a benefit,” Boltrek said. “Both of those guys have played on big stages before in lacrosse, and it was evident that those experiences paid dividends for us throughout the playoffs. I know them playing football has made them better lacrosse players. The toughness and grit that it takes to be successful in football is visible every time they step on the lacrosse field.”

Pryor credits his coaches and teammates, and playing in one of the toughest leagues on Long Island, for making him a better athlete day in and day out, but his head coach said it’s all about what the boys do.

“It’s great for the program to get this sort of recognition, but of course, the program doesn’t receive these honors without the individual efforts of these three players,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that all three of them started in all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — and no matter who the opponent was, they had to game plan for these three.”

New York City opponents will have to make big plans to take down the trio, who said they have been best friends since
elementary school. They’ll battle on the gridiron at Hofstra University June 21 at 7 p.m.

“I was hearing rumors that I might get selected, but once I actually got the news, I couldn’t be happier — it’s a dream to be able to play in this game,” Corpac said. “This sport is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’d do anything to play the season all over again. I cannot wait to put on the pads and play high school football one last time.”

Victoria Espinoza, left, marched with her sister Gabriella in New York City last Saturday. Photo from Victoria Espinoza

This past weekend more than one million people gathered across the world to participate in the Women’s March, a grassroots movement organized by multiple independent coordinators. I am proud to have been one of those million or so.

As diverse as the crowds were at each sister march across the country so were the reasons each person marched. The mission of the Women’s March on Washington, to give its full title, was to stand up and protect the rights of every man, woman and child in the United States.

Their website states the rhetoric of the last election cycle alienated, insulted and demonized many groups including immigrants, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, people with disabilities, and survivors of sexual assault.

Make no mistake, this is a fact — and no, Kellyanne Conway, in no way is it an alternative fact. President Donald Trump (R) alienated many groups during the campaign season. Speeches and comments targeted Hispanics, the disabled, women and many more. Trump’s own past words serve as verification of this fact with quotes like, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

So for those asking why marchers felt the need to protest, there should be no confusion: People felt the need to stand up, defend and support each other after the litany of comments made in 2016 and earlier by the president, and for others the promises and administration choices made since. This march was meant to show they are not alone, and we stand by them.

I marched to be an ally, but to also send a message to my government that my political consciousness is alive and well, and I will be watching and reacting to everything the new administration puts forward. This is not simply to make myself feel better when I air my grievances about the state of the country.

In early January, Republican members of Congress voted during a closed-door meeting to place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those lawmakers. The proposal would have barred the panel from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, and give the House Committee on Ethics the power to stop an investigation at any point. Currently the ethics panel operates as an independent, nonpartisan entity. Although it was served as ethics reform, public outcry condemning the legislation caused lawmakers to pull the bill almost immediately.

The public in this act was informed of the workings of their government, reacted, and was able to turn the tide. This is what the Women’s March represents to me — the beginning of a greater level of awareness.

The day after the march, the organization released their next step in continuing to fight for the rights of all citizens: 10 Actions in 100 Days. Their first action is a letter-writing campaign to senators to keep the conversation going.

Various media reports are saying the Women’s March was the largest march in U.S. history.

Let’s look back at other significant marches. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 saw more than 250,000 listen to the words of Martin Luther King Jr., demanding equality. The following year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The first major anti-Vietnam War protest with between 500,000 and 600,00 people was held in 1969. Several more rallies, marches and protests were planned after that and in 1973 America had officially ended its involvement.

Of course these marches are not the sole reason change took place. But they were certainly part of a domino effect.

The People’s Climate Change March in 2014 was the largest climate-change march in history, and although most scientists would agree we still have a long way to go, the Paris Agreement of 2015 marked a historic turning point for dealing with the world’s emission of greenhouse gases.

Anyone who felt inspired and enthused by the marches across the globe last Saturday shouldn’t just sit back to reflect. Continue to be informed and voice opinions, because it matters. Former President Barack Obama (D) said, “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself,” during his farewell address.

For all the participants, you were a part of one of the largest nonviolent protests in history — with zero arrests in Washington, D.C., and New York City, the marches with the most numbers. Be proud of your involvement, stay informed and do not stop letting your voice be heard.

Victoria Espinoza is the editor of the Times of Huntington and Northport and the Times of Smithtown.

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

Community members gathered to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. During memorial events across Suffolk County, ceremonial shots were fired, victims’ names read aloud and flowers laid down.

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The Grand Republic sits at the Port Jefferson ferry terminal. File photo

Port Jefferson hopes to become a hub for weekend travelers with the launch of a new ferry service connecting the village to New York City and New Jersey.

The Seastreak ferry will start running on May 22, according to a press release, in partnership with other travel companies that already link the village to Connecticut and the Hamptons.

Port Jefferson will operate as the center of the new Sea Jitney service, with the high-speed Seastreak ferry running between Highlands, N.J., Manhattan’s East River ferry terminal at 35th Street and Port Jefferson; the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry running across the Long Island Sound between Connecticut and Long Island; and the Hampton Jitney bus service driving between the village and the Hamptons and other locations on the East End.

The three transportation companies will coordinate service between the branches.

“This powerful partnership has an extremely low impact on our infrastructure while introducing visitors to our beautiful, historic village,” Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant said in a statement.

According to the press release, one-way fares change based on where passengers start and finish their trip, but range from $33 to $50.

Reservations are required for the trips, which will focus on travel toward Long Island on the weekends, with departures from New York City and Connecticut on Fridays and Saturdays and from the East End on Sundays.

“Sea Jitney is a game changer for people who travel between Connecticut and the Hamptons,” Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry General Manager Fred Hall said in a statement. “At two and [a] half hours from Bridgeport to Southampton, it’s shorter than going through NYC and much less stressful.”

The ferry between the city and Port Jefferson takes about two hours, the press release said, while the bus from the village to the Hamptons takes another hour.

Visit www.seajitney.com for more information.

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