Lower East Side

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Pablo Conejero López Is The Spanish Poet Haunting the Lower East Side

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

A slender man draped in a long coat and sporting coiffed dark hair descends a set of stairs, strolling along the South Street Seaport in a faded video sequence that seemed straight out of a dream. The man narrates in Spanish while English subtitles roll underneath: “There are things and dreams that disappear by not thinking them/And lovers whose pain is forgotten during each successive sleep.” The man is Pablo Conejero López, a Spanish artist that has haunted the Lower East Side with his introspective poetry and eclectic multimedia music collaborations.

The poem in the video is an excerpt from Lopez’s third book, Cuerpos (“bodies” in Spanish), which will be released in December with Paradigm Publishing. But although López has been prolific on social media—his Instagram boasts 12,300 followers and growing—that’s not how I was introduced to the curious artist. In a way, I first encountered López while I was walking around Great Jones Street and a ragged piece of paper stuck atop a Minnie Mouse sticker caught my eye. The haunting opening lines resonated with me: “Come/take me with you/by the hand down melting pathways/and store windows/so we can see our reflection.” So I looked up hashtag #PabloCL to learn more about my mysterious street poet.

When I met up with López in person a few weeks later on a bench on the outskirts of Seward Park, he recounted the story of how his “sticky paper” poem adventures began. “It was sort of an accident that happened. One day I was printing stuff up, and I used sticky paper instead…so I realized it could be a sticker…Like, why didn’t I do this before? Because if you’re an artist or poet, it’s the fastest way to get your words out there.” He used the hashtag #PabloCL to connect with passerby. Some liked his art and some did not, but the most important thing was that people took the time to notice his art, which could feel like a rarity in a world where writers often faced a steady stream of rejections from literary magazines. “When you’re doing this, you don’t need anyone’s approval. You just post it. And it’s free. It’s more direct. Maybe somebody would never find out or you would have never found out if I was published [in] the Paris Review.”

Upon our first encounter, I immediately noticed two things about the soft-spoken artist, who seemed out of place in this bustling corner of the Lower East Side where the sirens of ambulances mingled with the loud conversations of park goers. First: the intensity of his gaze and keen self-awareness (during a lull in conversation, he sighed and asked, “Am I boring you?”), which I attributed to his background as an actor. Second: his sharp attire (a crisp blue striped shirt, sheer black dress pants and shiny leather shoes), which spoke to his day job (he works in a shoe store now and before that in a tailor’s shop).

The 38-year-old poet-musician was raised as the youngest of four children in the coastal Spanish city of Valencia, where he was raised “in a very conventional and traditional atmosphere because of the area of Spain I grew up in, but also a very unconventional family.”

Although both of his parents were educators before retiring, López spurned the academic life, opting not to go to college after high school. “I didn’t want to be a part of a system in any way. Because I grew up, you know, like many kids that are a bit artistic or the classic effeminate kid, I was always feeling inadequate in a kind of way. That sort of pushed me away from any kind of system.”

Instead, while he was developing his own writing, he set off for London, where he studied drama at the National Youth Theatre. He auditioned for and subsequently starred as Mercutio in a play his father wrote, an adaption of Romeo and Juliet and Two Noble Kinsmen in which Mercutio falls in love with Romeo and Juliet. He split his time between London and Madrid, bartending to earn his keep and also taking voice lessons.

Although he was an actor by training, López felt his true calling lay elsewhere, and he started shifting more formally towards music and poetry in the late 1990s. Of music, he says it “helped me develop an identity as a teenager when you feel misplaced and [have] classic adolescent feelings.” While writing the poems that would comprise his first book, Rock and Roll Jolie, López wound up joining a group of hard-nosed kids from the outskirts of Madrid, among whom the reclusive López found a home for five years when they formed a band called Vice and Vanity, featuring López as their vocalist. Even though their music hewed more to rock and roll, they had a sort of “punk rock aesthetic” that was inspired in part by the music scene unfolding in New York at the time. “It’s more of an attitude or a way of looking at life than a style of rock and roll,” said López.

Inevitably, he made his way to New York in his early twenties. López was visiting a friend at Stony Brook in Long Island, and he would take the train into the city and just roam the streets. But New York cast a spell on López, and he returned every year until 2005, when he met his now-husband, Vincent Michaud. Michaud would soon become a creative partner with López, as he illustrated the poet’s second book, New Reality, and also developed the visuals for many of his multimedia works, including Park Poem, a collaboration with Laloved Magazine that also featured spoken word poetry from López alongside out-of-this world music from López’s current band, Ensalmo (roughly meaning “incantation” in Spanish).

Newly in love and wanting to pursue other creative endeavors, López moved to the city for real in 2006 and split up the band, though in his first year in New York they did play a few gigs at spots like Continental (back when it was still doing live shows) and the Trash Bar in Williamsburg (now the Brooklyn location of the popular Overthrow boxing gym). But eventually, he and the band went their separate ways, separated by more than just an ocean. “They were demanding a presence from me, and I was also withdrawing and wanting to start a life here. I wanted to stay with them, but I also wanted to explore, not only personally but also artistically.”

López’s present-day band, Ensalmo, was eventually born with the addition of bandmates Florencia Zaballa Moon and Jamie Del Moon. All the while, López’s love of poetry grew stronger, inspired as he was by poets like Manhattan native and musician Jim Carroll, who also lived on the Lower East Side for a time. López released his second book of poetry in 2011, and then more recently began to plaster his writings around the city in places like Washington Square Park and the East Broadway subway station. So many of his poems centered on the experience of dwelling in this ever-changing place–whether it was being a romantic in the city or observing a flock of birds and meditating on their significance in one’s own life.

Image posted on Instagram by Pablo Conejero López

He was particularly inspired by the Lower East Side, where he’s lived for the past 10 years. In fact, it was in part due to the diversity of his surroundings that he decided to write his next book of poetry in both English and Spanish as a way to fully embrace his native tongue. “For this book, I really want to develop my love for my mother language. It’s the first bilingual book [of mine]. I wrote it, I translated it,” said López. “That’s what I like about New York—the diversity and the language diversity. The cultural diversity is something I identify with. Especially in this neighborhood,” he said, gesturing to the small storefronts and residential walk-ups on Essex Street.

We chatted for a little bit about the shops of nearby Orchard Street and the gentrification of Chinatown. In the process, I discovered that López had more than just a personal connection to the Lower East Side—it was a historical one that spanned generations. His grandfather and great-grandfather moved to New York, and it’s possible they may have at one point lived on Cherry Street, settling in among the influx of Spaniards that flocked to Lower Manhattan in the early twentieth century. “It makes me feel subconsciously that I ended up here.”

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First Look at NYC Ferry’s New Line, Cruising Into the LES Next Week

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

With the hotly anticipated Lower East Side ferry line finally set to launch next Wednesday, Aug. 29, we took advantage of this breezy, sunny day to board the Friendship Express and preview the new route. Verdict: It was worth the wait.

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Lovehoney Believes Sleazy Blues Rock Can Take Over the World

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

Lovehoney is here to make you care about rock and roll again, and they’re doing a pretty damn good job of it. Band members—vocalist Alysia Quinones, guitarist Tommy White, drummer Tom Gehlhaus and bassist Matt Saleh—may not presently live in Brooklyn—though Alysia grew up in Bushwick—but their home base where they rehearse is a local fixture. The Sweatshop, which lies off the Montrose Avenue L stop, offers space to many rising New York artists. As we’re chatting, the whirring of a machine and other banging noises periodically disrupt our conversation. Tommy smiles wryly and says, “The perks of having a rehearsal studio in a warehouse.”

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Scorsese Permanently Turned the LES Into Little Italy On Google Maps

From Google Maps.

Look at the corner of Broome and Orchard on Google Maps and you might think that the Lower East Side is gentrifying far more rapidly than you imagined. The Street View images, taken in November of last year, show an Italian music store, a fish market, a cheese store, a grocery and a hardware store– none of which are there just months later. Should we blame Essex Crossing, with its forthcoming Target?

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Art That Lulls You Into Relaxation and More Openings This Week

Image: Raul Valverde in collaboration with Muntadas, ‘Calendar for Travelling Artists’, 2018, 8 × 51/2 in. (20.32 × 13.97 cm). Courtesy of the artist. (via ISCP / Facebook)

Never Take a Vacation with an Artist Who Collects the Same Stuff You Do
Opening Tuesday, August 14 at International Studio + Curatorial Program, 6 pm to 8 pm. On view through October 12.

The title of this new group show from ISCP conjures some immediate images: two artists, lounging on the beach. Their peaceful time is cut short due to the fact that they both really want to collect the same type of shells, but there are only a couple of those, so they start fighting over them. Dare I say, all shell breaks loose? I forget if you can even take shells from beaches, but still. The actual content of this show, which features nine artists from ISCP’s Ground Floor Program, appears to be more interesting (or soothing) than my strange musings about beaches. With a goal of “lull[ing] the viewer into a state of relaxation,” the show offers vacation-centric content like thoughts on summer road trips and an interactive piece that quite literally gives the gallery’s front desk staff a break from working. It’s summer, after all. More →

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Cakeshake Blends Veganism Into the Instagrammable Shake Trend

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

Zach Neil had a pretty sweet idea: “I wanted to find a way to do something with cake and ice cream and elaborate toppings and I wanted to make it make it vegan as well.”

He did some Googling and came across Black Tap’s immensely popular, decadent (and non-vegan) cake batter milkshake, the Cake Shake. Neil’s new shop, which fully opened in the East Village last week, is called Cakeshake. But it isn’t a mere Black Tap knockoff. “Essentially, we wanted a place where anyone could go and order this over-the-top Instagrammable shake that is also sensitive to lifestyle and [is plant-based],” he tells Bedford + Bowery.

Over the top indeed: Following up on the edible gold trend that seems to have swept New Yorkers into a fervid consumption of metallic substances (gold-plated chicken wings, anyone?), Cakeshake is offering an appropriately named #blingbomb shake, whose golden and silver sparkles practically blind the viewer and mask the mountain of mini cupcakes and vegan ice cream that lies underneath.

Neil embarked on his vegan shake voyage about a year and a half ago, when he started trending toward a more plant-based diet, but realized that eating that way outside of major cities was a real challenge. And not just for him, but his daughters, too. “I have two daughters who have a sweet tooth. I’ve taken them on my journey on veganism. I wanted [options] that were healthier and plant-based,” Neil told us. Then the idea dawned on him: why not vegan milk shakes, with some gluten-free options and maple bacon-topped treats (ask for the “Elvis”) for the carnivores as well. Neil pitched the idea to his friend (and now the store’s executive chef), Felix Castro, who loved the idea. With the help of co-owner Tim O’Grady,  Cakeshake was born.

Most of the shakes range from $10-$15. There’s a 100% vegan #popmocha shake that comes packed with tres leches ice cream, espresso reduction, hand-made caramel corn, and whipped cream in a smorgasburg they call “plant-based heaven.” Other notable options include a vegan avocolada shake, which is their take on a piña colada, except with the very millennial addition of avocado to the usual pineapple. They’re constantly experimenting with new flavors, so you’ll just have to visit in person to see their latest menu. Note: kids under the age of 12 get a free drink with purchase of an adult shake, so this is one family-friendly joint. Bring a friend to share.

Cakeshake is located at 514 East 6th street, and is open from 2 pm-10 p.m. every weekday.

 

 

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Crystal Moselle Talks Skate Kitchen And Bringing the Girl Skaters of the LES to the Big Screen

(Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Director Crystal Moselle, who traced a family of Lower East Side shut-ins with her documentary The Wolfpack, is back in the public spotlight. This time, she’s touting a feature film instead of a documentary and hanging out with a feisty group of teen girls tearing up the skate parks and streets of the Lower East Side. Her new film, Skate Kitchen, depicts a fictionalized version of the lives of real skateboarders who captivate their 70,000-plus followers on Instagram with viral videos of skating tricks and gnarly wipe outs.

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Residents Say City Sold Former LES Nursing Facility ‘Like a Bag of Dope’

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

Ribbons spanning all the colors of the rainbow hung from the gray walkway and black fences enclosing the trees perched in front of the salmon-pink Rivington House, a former public school that re-opened in the 1990s to assist individuals with HIV and AIDS. Scrawled on the ribbons in black marker were phrases and stories in support of the Rivington House in English, Chinese and Spanish. Each ribbon was dedicated to a specific bed number at Rivington House in honor of the individuals that the center served over the past two decades.

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A Puppet Fest For Adults? We’re Not Stringing You Along

(Image courtesy of International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC via Facebook)

I’ll admit, I always thought that puppet shows were mostly for kids, but maybe I was just pulling a Statler and Waldorf. This display of international puppet pageantry looks like one lively, adult-appropriate event. Produced by Teatro SEA and the MORÁN Group, the first ever International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC features theater companies from Costa Rica to Canada to France. But it particularly shines a spotlight on stories from Latin America and Latinx communities in the U.S., as seen in “Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story,” a performance by theater group Agua, Sol y Sereno that focuses on Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria.

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Performance Picks: Kaufman-Inspired Comedy, Mental Health, and More

THURSDAY

(image via Vow Performance Party / Facebook)

Vow II: Mental Health
Thursday, August 2 at Rose Gold, 7:30 pm: $10 advance, $15 doors

While it still carries some stigma, mental health has steadily become more and more of a presence in today’s everyday dialogues. This is undoubtedly due to the unfortunate prevalence of mental health issues, many of which have proven to be exacerbated by the current political climate. Even as (and especially) as things get worse, continually talking about it can help. One of the more unique ways you can engage is through Vow, a sex-positive party and performance series “for artists with stigmatized identities or experiences to express themselves freely in a supportive community.” The night is centered around mental health, and features relevant performances by a lineup that includes burlesque performers Regal Mortis, Lucy Risqué, and Miss Sugar Mamasota, dominatrix Venus Cuffs, performance artist Monika Rostvold, and more. More →