Alice Austen House, Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, New York Tattoo Museum, Historic Richmond Town
Duncan, Katherine and Allison
The day dawned overcast and humid. We met at the Staten Island Ferry at 10:15, where we each had our bikes sniffed by a canine. The only illegal substance our bikes are carrying is sarcasm.
Interviews with the participants revealed that the most anticipated museums of the day included the Jacques Marchais Tibetan House collection and the Tattoo Museum. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyZeAMQs_-c
Our first stop was the Alice Austen House, a lovely seaside mansion not far from the ferry terminal. The house itself served as a beard, as it became increasingly clear from the coy, euphemistic placards that Alice loved the love that dare not speak its name. Her “companion,” Gertrude, and she lived happily in the house, eschewing male suitors and dressing up in drag so that Alice could indulge her penchant for photography. Sometimes the men dressed up as well, or pressed the trigger button to capture Alice and “Trude” lounging in bed. Alice called her carefree living “the Larky Life.” Katherine paid close attention to the video presentation, a seventies-stravaganza narrated by Helen Hayes, and became an authority on this little known Staten Island LGBT phenom.
We then biked to the tattoo museum. We would not like to recommend Staten Island as a biking destination as it is 1) hilly and 2) not particularly bike friendly. We went down Hylan boulevard, a street which could be anywhere in suburban America, a repeating pattern of CVS, Claire’s, Jiffy Lube and KFC. Finally, thirsty, hungry, we reached the Tattoo Museum, which, if it looks very much like a tattoo shop, is because it is.
There Dozer, the museum’s creator and shop owner, recommended that we go to lunch while he got the museum together. In great detail he described the offerings of the nearby Italian deli, while we needed no convincing. We had a terrific set of hero sandwiches, sopressata, eggplant and chicken parm, which stayed with us all afternoon, and occasionally repeated itself.
The museum itself was up a flight of stairs. Though there was no air conditioning, and the heat index was hovering near 100, Dozer dutifully took us through the one room of exhibits. Three cheesey dioramas (manikins with wigs) showed the history of tattooing, from Polynesian tribes, to Japanese XX technique to the birth of the stereotype of the drunken sailor, accompanied by spotlights and short documentaries. There were first-edition drawings by famous (if you are in the tattoo world) drawings of tattoos, acetate stencils and a collection of a couple dozen machines used by famous artists.
No one can accuse Dozer of lacking enthusiasm. We were gifted with the most in-depth knowledge of tattoo history and technique that money could buy (the museum is free). The final wall shows just a few of the many-hundred tattoos that Dozer performed in the wake of 9/11. After being moved to tears when visiting the local firehouse, where many of the guys who used to hang out at the tattoo parlor were being mourned, he helped design a tattoo that could only be worn by members of the FDNY. He forewent his usual shop-owners cut, and convinced the artists to work for half their usual pay, earning over $17,000 for the orphans and widows fund. Community ink service at its best. The display was surprisingly moving.
Continuing to taste the chicken parmesean, we continued for our longest segment of the day up Lighthouse Hill to the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. Like the other museums we had visited, this museum was less of a museum and more of a house with some art. Jacques (a woman) collected Tibetan art and built a library to house the sculptures and artifacts she amassed. She apparently built the house by herself (surely she must have had construction help), and claimed, according to a placard, that it was built of heavy stone on bedrock. It would last for “a thousand years” which, as Duncan, our resident European pointed out, was quite the ballsy statement for 1944, when all other forever structures were lying in ruins. Allison couldn’t have given a fuck what the placards said as long as there was air conditioning.
Down the hill was much more fun, and Historic Richmondtown was mere blocks away. An historic preserve of 18th and19th century houses, some in situ and some moved from other areas of New York. Abandoned, it looked like a movie set, and we were unsurprised to hear that it was being used as a location for Boardwalk Empire. Factoids learned: bars got their names from the bars that the tavern owners could lower when fights broke out to protect their earnings; 18th Century houses didn’t have air conditioning.
The sole interpreter, that is, the sole person dressing up, worked at the general store, where the goods looked new as they were stocked for Boardwalk Empire. New old stuff looks really different from old old stuff.
By this point, the gang was tired and thirsty, and just happened to pass directly in front of the German beer garden, where we felt obligated to stop and help stimulate the economy. Katherine and Duncan had already downed a beer and the world’s second-largest pickle by the time Allison huffed and puffed there. It was the best beer ever in the history of beer drinking, and some of us have been at it for a while.
The sniffing dog on the way home did not want to check out the bikes and merely nodded in our direction. Each of us took turns impersonating the dog, giving voice to his dissatisfaction, which provided much amusement during the wait for the ferry.
Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mnaN9zFl4w
We got home just before it began to rain and Allison soaked in Epsom salts while Katherine and Duncan hit the town.
Alice Austen House 3 stars
Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art 3 stars
New York Tattoo Museum 3 stars
Historic Richmond Town 3 stars