It is remarkable what can be created through the lens of a camera by a visionary photographer. Beginning on October 5, 2019 for three months, the Library Claude Lévi-Strauss in Paris is showcasing the photography exhibit “The Bronx-La Villette” by Parisian Italian artist Matteo Pellegrinuzzi.
This exhibition is a portrait of two areas in different parts of the world that share a similar story. Marked by a difficult past, a negative public image, working-class origins and a multicultural population that included large numbers of immigrants, both The Bronx in New York City and La Villette in Paris are today experiencing a deep urban renewal with an enduring spirit found in its residents.
“The Bronx - La Villette” project was conceived five years ago in cooperation with Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours in New York. The photographer and Bronx tour guide began a friendship through a chance meeting on social media. As an admirer and follower of Matteo's work on Instagram, Alexandra began chatting with the photographer and would soon become Matteo's tour guide throughout The Bronx during his 2015 visit to The Big Apple.
Conversing throughout the tour, the two realized that there were numerous similarities between The New York City borough of The Bronx and the artist’s Paris neighborhood, La Villette. With a history filled with struggle, neglect, abandonment and disinvestment in the 1980’s, both neighborhoods had come through these hard times as a result of a strong sense of community on the part of their respective humble and proud residents.
As they explored The Bronx together, Alexandra suggested that Matteo consider taking photos for a possible photography collection which paralleled their home neighborhoods in America and in France. Matteo agreed wholeheartedly with his esteemed tour guide, already snapping away and capturing Bronx locals and merchants in their native settings, just being their authentic selves.
Upon returning to Paris, Matteo’s attention would return to work deadlines, taking him several months to focus on the photographs he had taken during his Bronx trip. Looking at the image collection with fresh eyes a few months later, Matteo was intrigued by what he had captured in his simple portraits of the people who call The Bronx home, partaking in their ordinary, everyday lives.
He fancied the collection so much that he decided to embark on a similar endeavor, capturing the people of his own Paris neighborhood of La Villette in their natural surroundings and daily lives, in much the same way. While the two cities were thousands of miles apart, characterized by different cultures, Matteo saw them much the same and wanted to capture his vision in photography to share with others. And with this next step came the birth of The Bronx-La Villette project. According to Alexandra Maruri "One of the main goals of this endeavor was to capture the human side of these communities from two different parts of the world. Both of these neighborhoods faced adversity, challenges and evolution."
Located east of Montmartre, in the 19th District of Paris, La Villette possessed some similarities to The South Bronx, more than three thousand miles away. Interestingly enough, both of these neighborhoods, were situated slightly outside the city proper. The Bronx is an outer borough of world renowned Manhattan, the center of New York City. Likewise, La Villette lies in the outer district of the epicenter of Paris.
These two areas, though technically, part of their main city, have more "neighborhood" qualities of family, local businesses and hometown warmth, even though they are technically recognized as part of a bigger metropolis.
But perhaps the greatest commonality is their respective dark and gray reputation to the world at large as "dangerous" and "unsafe" places. The Bronx has long endured the negative view from the outside as being a bad place, full of undesirables and peril to those who visit. According to Matteo, La Villette suffered in much the same way, being portrayed on the world stage and in the media, as an unsafe area of Paris.
The globalized shadowy, somber and mirky reputations shared and promulgated in the news and by Hollywood has left a lasting impression in people's consciousness about these two neighborhoods, in particular The Bronx. However, Matteo's photography collection captures the humanity and down to earth aspects of the individuals that reside in The Bronx and La Villette.
With his introduction to the South Bronx by Alexandra, Matteo immediately found the similarities to his Parisian neighborhood, La Villette and endeavored to exhibit, in his own words, “the differences and similarities of these two places through my art and give them the dignity that they deserve.”
Born and raised in Italy, Matteo departed his homeland for the city of Paris a decade ago, where he currently resides and is proud to call home. His love of photography started at the tender age of four, taking his first photograph and soon thereafter, the proud owner of his very own camera at age six! Matteo established himself as a professional photographer, first working for news agencies and then moving along to the glamour of fashion photography for such renown publications as Vogue Italy and G.Q. Magazines, respectively.
Speaking about his technique, Matteo says, "For many years my photographic narrative was an interest in people and their relationship with their location showing current realities that could one day be forgotten. The means I employ are the portrait and reportage, often made of silver medium or large format. This allows me to freeze a moment, an emotion, a place, which becomes almost unique.”
During Matteo’s visit to New York in April 2018, I had an opportunity to speak with the artist in detail about his style and photography preferences. He shared with me that, in his opinion, and quite obviously to the trained eyes of a photographer, good, old fashioned film is the best method for optimum photographic aesthetic quality. This is precisely how he shot his photos for The Bronx-La Villette project, all of which are featured in black and white.
With successful exhibitions in Paris and New York, “The Bronx-La Villette” project continues its journey over the next few months in Paris once again, with the exhibition of 90 photographs on display, divided into three parts with a rotation of 30 photos each month.
Singing the praises of Matteo’s photographic creation, Alexandra adds,
“The topics for this project were carefully chosen to showcase the local community, the everyday people who live in The Bronx and La Villette, very dynamic working areas with strong community ties. This is an opportunity to bring transatlantic neighbors together!”
"The Bronx-La Villette" Exhibition Project will return to the Bronx, New York in 2020!
Till next time,
For your reference:
The Bronx-La Villette Project Exhibition
Dates: October 5 to December 31, 2019
Location: Library Claude Lévi-Strauss
41 Avenue de Flandre, 75019 Paris
(Metro Stalingrad or Riquet)
Considering the fact that The Bronx has been revitalized by the local community, organizations, activists and religious groups since the 1970’s, bringing it back from great destruction to the thriving borough that it is today, it should come as no surprise that sustainable tourism was first organized by a local Bronx business entrepreneur.
Committed to working within the guidelines and goals of sustainable tourism set by the United Nations, within the community, Bronx HIstorical Tours’ founder, Alexandra Maruri was not only the first to recognize the immense value in all The Bronx has to offer both locals and visitors from around the globe in what it possesses in historical sites, neighborhoods and cultural significance with the establishment of her company in 2011, but she was ahead of her time in making sustainable tourism her number one priority.
Like many other important things in our society today, “Sustainable Tourism” has become a buzz word for those looking to capitalize on the attention given to this topic. But, it’s up for debate as to how many businesses that offer tours throughout The Bronx really understand the basic tenets of approaching tourism in a way that puts the community first and equally important is whether or not their “commitment” is personally motivated because they are also residents of the community.
Tourists coming to The Big Apple are realizing through increased press coverage and articles about The Bronx, like this one, that there is more to the New York City experience than the island of Manhattan. They do not realize that blazing the trail and establishing The Bronx as a place that is filled with an abundance to see and experience was no easy task considering the negative and harmful press coverage this borough received for close to five decades since the 1970’s. What visitors desire is a way to see as much of the city as possible, including the newly, positively reflected Bronx.
Tour companies, namely those based in Manhattan, that offer bus service to tours in the quaint and historical Little Italy in the Belmont section, for example are gaining the attention of New York City tourists, capitalizing on the groundwork and success of Ms. Maruri and her foresightedness about Bronx tourism.
However, the question remains, do these companies know the neighborhood from first-hand experience? Are they committed to the growth and flourishing of the local businesses and establishments? Do they instill a sense of respect for the local culture and lifestyle of the residents and additionally, (but certainly not least) do they understand how to navigate mass tourism in an area that is not accustomed to it?
When it comes to Sustainable Tourism, the overriding factors are always steeped in Preservation and Economy, because without an understanding on how to preserve the community and stimulate the economy, tourism is only benefiting the tour companies.
Take for example the sudden and mass interest in the South Bronx with the release of the motion picture, The Joker. With many fans from all over wanting to visit the area that is featured in this movie, there has developed some controversy about how such mass visitations affect the community, which flows into the issue of sustainable tourism and the guidelines to its achievement.
Long before this recent interest in the South Bronx, Maruri was offering tours throughout this area, three of which are currently ongoing, An Insider's Guide to the South Bronx, Introduction to The Bronx 101, and South Bronx Historic Tour. Most importantly, two of her key business practices include first and foremost, setting standards for a responsible visitor and encouraging support for small businesses in the area.
And that is not all. Integral to her business are eleven principles of sustainable tourism set forth by the U.N., all of which she has built her business upon, with a growing commitment everyday, especially with the arrival of outside tour companies and experts who claim to understand the best way to bring sustainable tourism to The Bronx.
According to Ms. Maruri, “Since starting Bronx Historical Tours eight years ago, there was never a question about implementing the principles of sustainable tourism and I was the first to adhere to the requirements and goals set by the United Nations. I see myself as a champion for the local businesses and the community, and my goal is to help the economy of The Bronx flourish, all while highlighting the historical significance of the neighborhood.”
She goes on, “It’s all about respect for the community and preserving the culture, namely, the South Bronx, which has come under full view with the release of The Joker. So we always remain conscious of the effects of mass tourism, keeping the footprint minimized throughout our borough and in the process strive to change the perception of The Bronx.”
This approach is clearly working because Maruri has garnered the attention of many respected people in the community, including Samuel Brooks, President of the Mott Haven Historical Districts Association (MHHDA), with whom she has developed a working partnership for the past five years. “We partner with MHHDA to enhance the way people look at The Bronx - we are a community, not a movie set, but a historical and cultural place filled with very humble people.”
Mr. Brooks has also seen the Borough transform from the ruination of decades past to present day when there is a renewed interest in the history of the communities of The Bronx. He sees Ms. Maruri as the trailblazer for Bronx tourism. “Alexandra developed the model for sustainable tourism in our borough. From Little Italy to the South Bronx to Mott Haven and City Island, she knows everyone, and ties her tours into the local business community in an effort to build and expand their businesses.”
Maruri herself recounts how prior to beginning her tour business, she literally went door to door throughout the various Bronx neighborhoods, where she had grown up in and frequented since her arrival to the United States in the early 1970’s as a little girl and discussed her entrepreneurial vision for developing the first-ever Bronx tours. Wanting to create a mutually beneficial enterprise, she shared her goal of building awareness and appreciation of The Bronx’s unique history and culture while simultaneously bringing awareness and patronage to local businesses.
“It was important to me that I had their support, after all, these communities are my home and the local merchants were like family,” says Maruri, “and I expect nothing less than great respect from all of my tourists as they take the time to tour with me and learn about our rich history.”
Mr. Brooks recounted how Maruri single-handedly forged ahead with her vision, when many in The Bronx thought she was crazy to take on such a formidable endeavor on her own. “She is authentic about her concern and love for the communities of The Bronx and sharing that love with her clients. Many of her tours are one-on-one and her public tours never exceed ten people, out of respect for the area.”
Interestingly, almost all clients ask two similar questions when touring with Maruri - Are you from The Bronx and How long have you lived here, which is a clear indication that visitors are quite sophisticated and want the real deal when exploring the Borough. According to Maruri, “My clientele want to hear not only the facts about The Bronx and the places we visit, but also the personal stories of someone who has and continues to live The Bronx experience and is passionate about sharing it.”
Taking her childhood experiences in the places she built memories and sharing it to benefit the community with visitors from all around the globe is what sustainable tourism is all about!
Till next time,
Last weekend, Bronx Community College held their Diversity in Public Art event which celebrated artistic contributions made by and reflecting a multitude of cultural backgrounds, and above all to honor the historic first Hall of Fame in the United States.
Opened to the public, this event began on September 21st and will run through October 25th displaying a mix of exhibitions that include paintings, sculptures, films, digital art and various mixed media, with the focal point being to reexamine the Hall of Fame and focus on the importance of cultural diversity in public monuments.
Kicking off the commencement last Saturday in the Gould Memorial Library were some opening remarks by Luis Montenegro, BCC Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. A musical performance followed by the Hondurian Bodoma Garifuna Culture band to get the “party” started featuring inspiring rhythmic drum compositions and harmonized singing, which included colorfully dressed traditional dancers performing in time with the music.
Film screenings, poetry readings and performances filled the day culminating with an award ceremony and closing remarks.
For many in attendance, (and I count myself among this group) the tour of the Hall of Fame of Great Americans was the prominent highlight of the day. Considering the fact that the weather could not have been more cooperative and one of the most beautiful Fall days ever, our group tour was conducted by the esteemed Bronx Historian, Lloyd Ultan.
Both a Bronx native and a graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University respectively, Mr. Ultan has been the borough’s historian since 1996, having an illustrious career as a professor of history at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies and a member of the adjunct faculty at Lehman College. Needless to say, the tour was very illuminating!
Sharing both historical facts and pertinent pop culture information about the Hall of Fame itself and the individuals honored, Mr. Ultan’s charm and knowledge were matched only by his ability to sprinkle humor throughout the tour, making it captivating and entertaining.
The outdoor sculpture gallery that comprises The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is of course located on the grounds of Bronx Community College, but what many may not realize is that it is the first ever such hall of fame in the country.
Conceived by Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University, the Hall of Fame was intended as a way to honor Americans who made a significant contribution to our society. According to The American Monthly Review of Reviews published in 1900, Chancellor MacCracken acknowledged that his inspiration was derived from the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) in Munich, Germany.
And while fame has come to mean more of “celebrity” these days, over a century ago, the meaning was more akin to that of “renown” which is ever apparent from the 96 (formerly 98) portrait busts that line the 630 foot open-air Colonnade of the Hall of Fame.
Originally built on the grounds of what was New York University’s University Heights campus, the school was forced to sell the campus to the City University of New York in 1973 when it then became Bronx Community College. What a lovely inheritance for BCC – an architectural masterpiece which had previously been designated a New York City Landmark on February 15, 1966 and would be added to the National Register of Historical Placed on September 7, 1979.
Mr. Ultan delighted our mesmerized group with fundamental facts about those individuals honored and a few tidbits of trivia which included how the Munchkins of Munchkinland mentioned the Hall of Fame in the 1939 feature film, The Wizard of Oz when they were honoring Dorothy.
The Beaux Arts structure was designed by the architect Stanford White (who, incidentally also designed the BCC Gould Memorial Library), was named for its donor Helen Gould and dedicated on May 30, 1901.
If you are curious like me, you may be wondering how it came to be decided who would be featured in the Hall of Fame. Well, as Mr. Ultan explained, there was a procedure and a number of requirements to the process. Each state was allowed to nominate notable persons for consideration, regardless of gender or race, however, individuals were required to be native born or naturalized (since 1914) citizens of the United States.
To avoid the prospect of self promotion, it was required that nominees be dead for 10 years from 1900 to 1920 and then it was increased to 25 years deceased in 1922. Lastly, a nominee must have made a major contribution to the economic, political, or cultural life of the nation.
I decided to embark on a little research myself about the election process and came upon a wonderful article written by Richard Rubin of The Atlantic Monthly, written in 1997, entitled “The Mall of Fame” which explains the election process beautifully:
“MacCracken wanted to make sure that the people enshrined in his Hall of Fame were truly famous, not just memorable. So he established a board of electors, composed of men and women who were themselves possessed of some measure of renown, ostensibly people of great character and sound judgment. Over the years that body would include the most respected writers, historians, and educators of their day, along with scores of congressmen, a dozen Supreme Court justices, and six Presidents…It was a truly democratic institution — anyone could nominate a candidate, admission would be free, and although NYU served as a
steward, raising funds and running the elections, the whole thing was technically the property of the American people.”
The Colonnade is well-designed and broken into categorized marked sections, that comprise fifteen classes and our delightful tour guide highlighted several individuals from each one, providing insight into their accomplishments and contributions. These classes include authors and editors, businessmen, inventors, missionaries and explorers, philanthropists and reformers, clergymen and theologians, scientists, engineers and architects, lawyers and judges, musicians, painters, and sculptors, physicians and surgeons, politicians and statesmen, soldiers and sailors, teachers and distinguished men and women outside of these classes.
Equally relevant are the sculptures who created the busts, who were as diversified in their backgrounds and native countries as the elected individuals whose likenesses fill the hall. Upon entering from the grounds of the campus, the first category featured are inventors and scientists, which was a great way to kick off the tour!
Here is a short list of those individuals featured on our tour. See how many you know!
In the case of Robert E. Lee, he is disliked today because he was a commander of the Confederate States Army, however, he was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and military engineer in the United States Army for 32 years. He also distinguished himself during the Mexican–American War, and served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy.
As for Stonewall Jackson, he was also a Confederate general during the American Civil War and his military strategies are still studied today.
With my college years as a student at Fordham University decades behind me, I’m once again focusing in on institutions of higher learning with two teenage daughters who are becoming increasingly aware of the many options they will have to consider during the next few years.
In many ways, I took for granted just how amazing a school Fordham was when attending. However, now that I am beginning the college investigative process with my teenage kids with objectivity, it is no wonder Fordham is a much desired college to attend by kids around the country and the world!
Here are ten lesser known facts that you might not be aware of about this prestigious Bronx university.
1. Fordham ranks in Top 100 college and universities in 2019
In a ranking of all national universities, Fordham, private and co-ed, ranked #70. The university has some of the highest-ranked graduate programs in New York and the Northeast, from business and law to education and social work. The Gabelli School of Business, in particular, is recognized as one of the top business schools in the nation.
2. Top Ranking for Best Undergraduate Teaching
Based on a survey conducted in the spring of 2018, Fordham was ranked among the most prestigious universities for putting a particular emphasis on undergraduate teaching. The ranking were tallied from the most votes given by top college administrators and Fordham came in at #52 along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University.
3. Fordham University is the Oldest Catholic College in the Northeast
Fordham University was founded by the Catholic Diocese of New York in 1841 as St. John’s College, making it the oldest Roman Catholic institution of higher education in the northeastern United States. The vision began in 1840 when The Most Reverend John J. Hughes purchased the bulk of Rose Hill Manor, a private farm in the village of Fordham, now part of The Bronx. The administrators brought in Jesuit educators to run the college in 1845, establishing Fordham as New York City’s only Jesuit institution. The school is also the third-oldest university in the state of New York, after New York University and Columbia University.
4. Tuition at Fordham University is Slightly Higher Than Average
The undergraduate tuition and fees at Fordham University are slightly higher than the average amount of similar schools’ tuition. The 2019 undergraduate tuition & fees of Fordham University are $52,687 for their students and approximately an additional $17,969 for room and board.
Graduate school tuition & fees for 2019 are $34,363. On average, annual tuition for private 4-Year not-for-profit colleges and universities total about $50,900 for annual tuition and fees.
Incidentally, this is a far cry from what it cost when I was an undergraduate student back in the day at $10,000 with room and board!
5. Students Enjoy the Experience of Urban Living and Inter-Campus Travel
The school motto says it best with “New York is my campus. Fordham is my school.” In the heart of The Bronx, the Rose Hill Campus offers both its outdoor gardenesque grounds and the ultimate urban setting outside its gates. With its second residential campus at Lincoln Center, in the cultural heart of Manhattan near Central Park, transportation between the two is easy and accessible via the school’s Ram Van shuttle that runs every half hour. The college’s third campus in Westchester’s Harrison can also be reached by means of the Ram Van.
6. Campus Life versus City Apartment Living
Fordham University offers resident students the chance to select their preference for living quarters all four years. Even Freshmen do not have to live on campus, if they choose, taking advantage of the Bronx apartment life. However, any student who is promised housing upon admittance to the school is guaranteed a room for four consecutive years.
7. Fashion Law Anyone?
Fordham School of Law, is home to the first Fashion Law Institute in the country. With the help of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, it’s the world’s first center dedicated to the law and business of fashion teaching the four pillars of this specialty which include Intellectual property, Business and finance, International trade and government regulation, including sustainability, privacy, and issues related to wearable technology and Consumer culture and civil rights.
8. The Opportunity to Live on a Biological Field Station
Ever imagine what it would be like to reside in a log cabin and study your natural surroundings? Each year, this becomes a reality for twelve lucky graduate students who are able to live in log cabins allowing them to be closer to their research. Graduates and undergraduates alike may take advantage of the Louis Calder Center, a biological field station where environmental studies courses and research are conducted.
9. It’s Not Greek to Me
Although co-ed with many activities, clubs and academic studies, this Jesuit university does not offer a Greek life (fraternities or sororities).
10. Students Love Fordham
It’s a good sign that students love their school when retention and graduation rates are high. At Fordham University, the rate of student retention is very high at 91%, which is well above New York average. The graduation rate at Fordham University is very good too at 81%.
11. A Fordham Education is Mark of Distinction
According to recent government data, 42,811 applications were submitted to Fordham University by students wanting to attend and 20,366 were accepted, so it is pretty difficult to be accepted at this school. On the flip side, if you or your loved ones are lucky enough to be accepted and earn a degree from this prestigious Bronx college, then you should be very proud.
Till next time,
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.