10 October 2006

Albany from the air and on the ground

[If you are reading this blog for the first time, you might be surprised to see that it features pictures of U.S. locales, not France. I live in the Loire Valley but I am currently spending a month traveling around the eastern U.S. Look at my previous topics and archives for photos and commentary about Saint-Aignan and the Loire Valley.]

Here are some pictures I took in Albany last week, well before the incident in which the suburban police stopped me and told me to cease and desist as far a picture-taking went. Those were not the Albany city cops. I guess suburbanites are a little touchy about people taking pictures in their neighborhoods.

Walt's grandmother told me yesterday that there was a gruesome axe murder in this suburb last year, and that the police pretty much botched the case. A young man killed his father and maimed his mother. He has been convicted, even though his mother refuses to believe her son is guilty. I guess some people in town are still nervous, and the police force is over-zealous as a result.

The Corning Tower rises above the state museum building in Albany NY

We arrived in Albany last Thursday night. Friday afternoon we went downtown to see the NY state government complex known as the Empire State Plaza. The first thing we did was ride the elevators up to the top floor observation deck of the 40-storey Erastus Corning Tower to get the lay of the land and take some photos.

Albany City Hall

Albany's city hall is the brown, red-rooved building with the square tower on it. It's just at the edge of the state government complex.

The state capitol building is modeled after the Hôtel de Ville in Paris

From the observation deck where I took this picture, there are views to the north, east, and south. This picture looks north. In the foreground is the building called "the egg," which is a performing arts center. The capitol is the building with red rooves, and off in the distance you can sort of see the Adirondack Mountains on the horizon.

II "heart" New York

Looking straight down from the top of tower, you see the famous New York logo. Not to mention a lot of freeways and cars.

The cathedral at Albany

The cathrdral is just south of the Empire State Plaza, which was built in the 1960s and '70s. A large neighborhood was razed to make space for the Plaza in the center of the city. I think that neighborhood had been home to a lot of immigrants from Italy and other parts of Europe.

The roof of a parking garage seen from above

Expanses of land and concrete devoted to automobile parking are a characteristic of American cities nowadays. There are parking lots in French towns and cities too, but not on this scale. South of the cathedral in Albany is a parking lot. The car defines the American city in a way it does not define European cities.

Air vents (bouches d'aération)

Walt says these big air vents are designed to let wind in to blow the pollution out of the big parking garages used by state workers.

Albany's South End neighborhood

The old South End neighborhood is separated from the Hudson River by an impressive network of highways. In this picture, the fall colors are nice. There are a lot of vacant lots where houses have been demolished. I don't think the South End is a particularly prosperous district.

South End stoop

The buildings in the South End have a lot of potential, but people don't want to live there any more, I guess. A lot of the old houses are boarded up.

Seen in a window downtown

This is a nice piece of street art. It's painted on a boarded up window in downtown Albany.

Lombardo's Bar and Restaurant

Lombardo's is an Albany institution, I think. We didn't try the restaurant, at least not yet.

Albany is a beautiful place in many ways, as you can see from these pictures. It's a small city that, compared to cities in the U.S. South and West, hasn't suffered a lot of suburban sprawl and development.

Of course, Albany has been losing population for years. A lot of people from the U.S. Northeast have been moving to places like the Carolinas and Florida and Arizona and California. As a result, my home state, North Carolina, for example, has changed and developed rapidly. The population has doubled since the 1960s. With all the good and the bad that that entails.


  1. Bonjour,

    Merci pour ce super compte-rendu et les photos toujours belles et intéressantes ! L'on vous suit dans votre périple :-) Bises. Marie

  2. Ken,

    Did they really ask you to stop taking photos? In the suburbs of Albany? Photos of plain ol' ordinary stuff...not like the water system or the power plant? Too strange...

    I hope you have a good trip. You'll likely see some beautiful fall colors; it is slow to come here on the Riviera. The nights are just beginning to cool down.

    But back to stories...so many stories, so little time!

    Meilleurs vœux!

  3. Yes, the policeman said I could go on my way (after he ran my Californai driver's license through his computer and confirmed that I really did have a license in California). "Just don't take any more pictures of houses," he said.

    It never occurred to me that it might be illegal to take pictures of houses when I was standing on a public street. This was not a gated community.

    The funny thing is that people in the States mostly seem to think this is normal. No big deal, they say. I think I violated some unspoken American rule. Is this freedom? Are people this frightened?

    One friend told me to remember that I was in an affluent community, so I should understand why people would be concerned. Another said some of her friends agreed that two men out taking pictures in a neighborhood was a little threatening. It would be OK if women did it. (Sorry, E.)

    The funny thing is that this happened on Columbus Day, a holiday. A lot of people were out on the streets and in their yards. Hired gardeners were mowing people's yards
    and raking up leaves. I hadn't chosen a time when the neighborhood was deserted to engage in my "suspicious" activities.

    I'm starting to think that people here are not so much scared of terrorists as they are of potential evil-doers coming in from less-affluent neighborhoods. There is a lot of crime in America, after all. There's much less in France.

    I really can't imagine anybody in France asking me not to take pictures when I am on a public right of way.

    Enjoy your nice weather.


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