Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Cannes Film Festival Is Part of My American Dream

French Films and the American Dream

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

The 72nd Cannes Film Festival is underway (May 14 to 25) on the French Riviera. I always wanted to be there, to soak up the stories in film, the stories on the runway, the stories of creative process and how a film miraculously came together in a series of serendipities.

I was in Nice, France, with my sister, daughter, and son-in-law a few years ago. Our plan was to drive west from Nice, on the coast road along the Cote d'Azur, and drive through Cannes. They had no particular interest in it; they were humoring me.

See a map of the Cote d'Azur here.

The festival had concluded days before, but I wanted to see this world-famous destination, the world-famous film festival that carries more weight than any other. I wanted to feed off the creative energy that would be lingering among the palm fronds waving in the Mediterranean breeze. I wanted to take the buzz back to Paris with me so that, after my family left, I could apply it to The Paris Writers Circle.

The road cooperated for a nice drive with views of the sea, through one coast town after another. I was looking forward to being in Cannes and paying homage to film, storytelling, glamour.

In Search of the American Dream

It's part of my American dream to see a movie of one of my stories made. If it ever happens, I'll be on the set, with gray hair, telling the 20-year-old actress to button her blouse up because that's not how I wrote this character. And telling the director I believe in sexual tension in stories rather than explicit sexual scenes. And they'll be, like, yeah, yeah, she's so old, and ignore my wisdom. Sigh.

Back to my story. The road suddenly veered inland, up a hill.  We anxiously kept putting "Cannes" in the GPS, but it simply refused to take us there. Traffic was heavy -- and scary. And we had to make it back to Paris that day for flights the following day. We couldn't afford to backtrack.

So my homage was never paid. I've never been to Cannes and really hate having to say that.

We drove north to Lyon, which we'd heard is the culinary center of France. Arrived just as the restaurants were closing for the afternoon break. Another disappointment.

But what are we but resilient?

Resilience, dogged perseverance, butt in chair, and serendipities. That's my creative process.

So I have no photos of Cannes for you. But I have a link to the official festival site, here, and to images by Newsweek from the 2018 festival, here. And I have a list of my Paris housemate Daphne's most highly recommended French films, below.

Daphne is a great source for film recommendations. She works in show business in France, managing shows for various artists. 
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Here's my dear friend Daphne, standing in a driveway in France. I will see her here in Brooklyn on June 4 when she comes to stay with me for a week! She understands showmanship, so you'll enjoy the movies she listed for me (below)

You'll see the French name of the film, her zany comments in parens, and then my notes on where I found (or didn't find) the film. In my case, "library" means the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library systems. Most town libraries are connected to a bigger system -- persevere and you may find these movies no matter where you live.

I have been delighted with all the movies on this list that I've seen. The comedies are truly laugh out loud funny. The dramas are moving, emotional. There are no special effects. They are all about humanity, life, longing. They are excellent storytelling.

Here goes:

- Ensemble c'est tout (cheerfully french !)
- Le placard (nice) buy $2
- L'auberge espagnol / Les poupées russes / Casse-tête chinois (it's a trilogy)
- La doublure (nicely funny)
- Les Visiteurs ( a MUST see! One of the classics!) buy on Am. $$$$ not on Netflix.
- La Grande Vadrouille (THE absolute classic)
- Les bronzés font du ski (a double must-see!) $8 on Am. Not on Netflix apparently.
- La vérité si je mens 1, 2 and 3 (crazyly funny^^) buy $4 on Am.
- Ma vie en l'air (quite great actually)  $10 to buy on Am.
- La chèvre (hahahahahahaha!!!)     rent on Amazon
- Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (incroyable!)
- Rien à déclarer (a proof of the belgian inferior race ! Joking XD) rent $3.49
- Le gendarme de St Tropez (old but nice saga) no rent on Am. Not on Netflix stream or DVD either.
- La vache et le prisonnier (old cute movie). Not on netflix
- Hors de prix =)
- Un indien dans la ville (a big classic too^^)

-------Comédie dramatique------
- Jeux interdits (even if difficult, the cutest movie I've ever seen)
- Comme un avion (like my father said: only french people can make a movie like that lol)  get from library
- Le concert (beautiful sound)
- Jeux d'enfants (Glory of french surrealism)
- Le Grand Bleu (if you liked dolphins.. Luc Besson's movie) not on Amazon
- Dialogue avec mon jardinier (friendship is all) book only at library. Not on either Netflix
- Intouchable (a wonder...)
- La Populaire! It's a really enchanting movie :D not on netflix

Le Coeur des Hommes! (it's like a french Sex and the city version with men)
- Je vais bien ne t'en fais pas (Frenchly bothering)
- La Môme (Édith Piaf biography)
- Deux jours à tuer (every detail is important in that movie). Not on Netflix
- Mommy (Canadian movie in French Canadian... just admired the work!)
- Suite Française (it's in English but I loved it!!), not on netflix

- Ne le dis à personne (well done!) yes, well done.
- Les rivière pourpres (Grrrrr)
- Cash (french suspens :P)
- 36 Quai des Orfèvres (good good good!) not Amazon. Not Netflix. Not NYPL library.
- MR73 (veeeeeeery good... but you'll need company to watch it I think)
- Léon (in English but french director Luc Besson... Natalie Portman is just incredible in that film)


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Admiring the "Success" of a Much-Admired Author

JRR Tolkien -- It Depends on How You Define Success

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft, the Traveling Writer

Today I bring you with me to a mini-adventure in New York City, in the palace-like home and library of financier JP Morgan, now known as the Morgan Library.

I visited the JRR Tolkien art exhibit there. It was mobbed. Stood on line for an hour. Feet hurt for two days.

How many writers can attract people from all over the world to see their doodles in the margins of their notes? To see the book covers that they designed, the maps they made in order to keep the landscape they imagined consistent throughout their writings, the timelines they meticulously charted in order to keep complicated story lines straight for the reader? And for themselves? I've done all those things and nobody troops to my Brooklyn studio apartment to see : )

In Search of the American Dream
A book cover that Tolkien designed.
Tolkien worked full time as a college professor of Middle English and had a family of four children that he told bedtime stories to. The Lord of the Rings started as bedtime stories for them, and they reportedly resented their father publishing what they considered to be THEIR stories. 

He had a lot of demands on his time. Students clamored for his time and attention too. 

In other words, he was as busy as I am -- but he had a wife, and I don't have anybody to help me. But he still found time to devote to imagining the world of the Hobbits in great detail. He made up a language, Elvish, with its own vocabulary and grammar. He kept notes on all this, and his notes are pleasing to the eye. 

I wish I could have taken more photographs to share with you, but they were prohibited inside the Tolkien exhibit. I did fire off one shot that reminded me of my grandson before the museum guard told me that photographs were prohibited.

In Search of the American Dream
I think Tolkien loved babies, as I do.

So people trooped from far and wide to see Tolkien's drawings, doodles, maps, and diagrams. People are still reading and enjoying his works, which have been made into blockbuster movies.  He was a successful author, no? He certainly has all the signs of authorial success.

JP Morgan had the money and power to build a lavish temple as his home. In financial circles, he was a tremendous success.

Both men's names are immortal.

My name, as an author, has scant chance of being immortal. One reason: My books compete with the 3 million new books published yearly on Amazon. I'd like to think they're as full of life as Tolkien's books--I certainly worked to make it so--but readers will decide that question.

Long ago, I decided that for me, success as an author was twofold: critical acclaim and banner sales.

I do feel they're a success in one way: I've received great reviews. I got the critical acclaim, in my opinion. Still waiting for the sales so I can write full-time...I've set the bar for "success" so high, I'll probably never achieve it. 

Besides, most writers always feel like a failure anyway -- we try for certain effects, we labor to engage our audiences, we ache to pick the right words, we work to take advantage of every opportunity that our story opens up to us. And we know we've failed. Samuel Becket, the Irish playwright, said of writing, "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

I'm editing another novel now and will publish it soon, a prequel to Why Spy. I'm also doing the research for a new novel set in Brooklyn. The title is so good, I can't go public with it. But I'm interviewing theater people and Copts in order to prepare for the writing, which will be all morning every morning in Paris! Starting July 21!! For three weeks!! Can't wait to fail better.

I was able to take pics in the JP Morgan Library and exhibit room, so here goes:

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Me with JP's Gutenberg Bible
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The ceiling of the library is gorgeous, but the room is NOT cozy.

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The fireplace.

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The books don't look well-read : )

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The Gutenberg Bible, again.

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The dazzling marble floors

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I have a weakness for Assyrian art.

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As a Francophile, I like maps that show who lived in France 2,000 years ago.

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A drawing JP owned by Leonardo da Vinci showing two designs for machines: a maritime assault mechanism and a device for bending beams.

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A detail from the Stavelot Triptych, from Constantinople in the 1100s, by way of a Belgian monastery, and now at JP's library on Madison Avenue.

 How about you? How do you define success for your life or your art? Comment below!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Unexpected in Rochester, NY while in search of the American Dream

Poets, Butterflies in Winter--Who Knew?

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

I traveled to Rochester, New York recently to see family and to explore my daughter and son-in-law's chosen place to live. They arrived February 1, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. An average 20-degree temperature difference all year long between the two cities. In Rochester it snows daily, in Chapel Hill once a winter.

Well, they went to school here, met here, and have family and friends here. So it does make sense.

Rochester was hard hit for a long time by the failures and/or exits of Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb. But it is experiencing a resurgence, quite possibly led by artists and the arts, as it is in Buffalo and Detroit and many other places. There are a dozen theater companies. Eastman School of Music puts on several music shows every night, for much more moderate fees than you can find in New York City, where I live. There is an entrepreneurial spirit here as well. The city is on the rebound. But is still affordable for young families and artists like me.

So, when I got to Rochester, I explored. Rochester has an arts district, known as Neighborhood of the Arts, or NOTA for short. There's a poets walk in this neighborhood, with bronze plaques set in the sidewalk honoring Rochester-related poets. Luminaries like E.E. Cummings, and Naomi Shihab Nye. Who knew? I didn't expect to see that.

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Village Gate is the former home of Stecher-Truang Lithographic Co., one of the world's largest lithographic plants. It now houses restaurants, studios, salons, shops, offices, and residential lofts.

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A sculpture just hanging out in the neighborhood.

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Writers and Books Literary Center is in a former police precinct house. The list of writers who teach here is luminous, just like the poets walk.

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A close-up of the beautiful doorway.

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Step in to make a call to poetry.

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Whimsical streetside bench.

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Whimsical paint on one of the superb houses in the Neighborhood of the Arts.

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Another former factory turned into a gift shop.

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The residents are doing whimsical sculpture by growing a wisteria vine up the stairs.

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Another whimsical streetside bench.

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Here it is, outside another incredible house.

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I wouldn't mind living here, among the gables, dormers, and bay windows.

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Look at this lovely lady.

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A lovely architectural detail on the same house.

There are plenty of reasons to love Rochester. The citizens are hardy, survivors of tough winters and short summers. They are hearty -- robust, outgoing, helpful toward neighbors, deep believers in strong, stable families. 

Even though Rochester has had its setbacks, the citizens are still in search of the American Dream.

My daughter and I took the little guy and did some more exploring, this time along the fabled Erie Canal. We took the 18-month-old to a park near the canal and let him toddle around, put him in the swing, took him out, let him climb up and come down the slide. Then, with the ants out of his pants temporarily, we walked the Erie canal about a mile to have coffee in the town of Fairport.

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A bridge house, complete with platform for gazing, on the Erie Canal in Fairport.

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A bridge over the canal, and the town's beautiful new library just beyond it.

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Here's my daughter, pushing Babo across the bridge after a toddle in the library.

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Does it give you the urge to sing the Erie Canal song? Do they teach it in school's a part of our American heritage, like "Working on the Railway" and "Dixie" and "Home on the Range," don't you think?

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A former bridge house, now a kayak rental.

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We scooted the mile back to the car before Babo got antsy.

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Nothing like a sweeping curve.

We also went to the butterfly garden at the Strong National Museum of Play. Babo just kept saying "Wow! Wow!" and he was quite right.

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A ground partridge.

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A toucan.

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How about you? Do you say or think "Wow!" in tropical gardens full of butterflies, lizards, and exotic flowers? I hope we all still do. Comment below!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Unexpected in Brooklyn

The Traveling Writer Explores the Unexpected in Brooklyn

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

I mentioned in my last post that I had seen baseball caps all over France and Barcelona that had "Brooklyn" emblazoned across them. Seeing "Brooklyn" proudly worn in Europe influenced my expectations.

So, what did I expect?

I expected a world-class city. I expected pride amongst its citizens that they were living in a world-renowned city. I expected Brooklyn to be fun, picturesque, engaging, artsy.

Not in my immediate neighborhood. It's called Prospect Park South. If you zoom in on the southern edge of the park closely enough, that name will appear. If you zoom out, it disappears and the area gets covered by a much less classy-sounding name, Flatbush.

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I did not expect to see a home reminiscent of a southern plantation in Brooklyn. But it's there! Looks as though someone went in search of the American Dream and found it.

Church Avenue is the main artery through Prospect Park South. It's one-lane each way, so it's not as divisive as a four-lane road would be. In my neighborhood, Church Avenue is lined on both sides with small shops: liquor store (of course), many small grocery/deli stores, most of which specialize in Caribbean products like swords of aloe vera, cans of coconut milk, piles of jack fruit, mangoes, avocados, jars of guava jelly. 

There are shoe stores, watch repair shops like my friend Abida's (from Pakistan), beauty supplies, wigs, barbershops, hair braiding shops galore. There's a Duane Reade pharmacy, several branches of big-name banks, a cut-rate department store, and a natural foods market trying to ride the wave as the area gentrifies.

I'm a gentrifier, though I don't want to be. I'm in Brooklyn because I work for a non-profit and the rent is cheap -- at least it was two years ago, not anymore -- and I snapped up the apartment within an hour of it hitting the listings. There isn't a studio apartment anywhere in Manhattan, where I'd rather live, that rents for less than $2,000 a month. Rents in my neighborhood are surging toward that level, and the black folks who've been there decades are being forced out as white young people realize the rents aren't too bad.

The blacks who've lived here for decades, relegated to broom jobs and Starbucks jobs and $10 per hour health aide jobs, can't keep up. I'm not sure where they go. Down South? Farther out in Brooklyn, in the vast swaths of it that have no park, no subway? Where the commute must be done by bus, which takes far longer, is more stop-and-go in street traffic, is far more stressful.

Before I moved there, I pictured a Brooklyn that felt artsy, happy, more relaxed than Manhattan. Instead, the atmosphere in my neighborhood is pungent with fear of not making rent that month. I haven't found any fellow writers, even though I advertised a new writers group at the local library for six months. Maybe people don't have time to write when they work 10 hours a day in 12-day stretches, as home health aides have to. The black women of my neighborhood are keeping the elderly rich in Manhattan alive. And soon these women will have to commute far longer to keep their jobs with their already impossibly-long days and weeks.

So the atmosphere isn't creative and artsy and full of possibility in my neighborhood. Instead, it's full of anxiety and, yes, a touch of resentment. Doors have been closed to these folks because they've been judged on the color of their skin. They see a little white woman powering off to her 7.5-hour-a-day, 5-days-a-week job, and the atmosphere gets a little bitter. 

And I see such a waste of human potential. Black young men stand and talk in groups on the sidewalk. They are clever enough to run a company, run a country. But the education system failed them, and racism thwarts them, and they grew up knowing there was no money for college and not much chance of ever being anything but poor.

I want to say to the people I pass, people looking down at the sidewalk, sad expressions on their faces, or faces shut down from any feeling: Don't give up. Keep trying. You can overcome -- just look at how the Internet can't tell the color of your skin. You can do things to change the trajectory of your life. 

But I truly don't know how many times they've been knocked down, denied, doors slammed. So I just keep doing my best at my writing and working and praying for racist attitudes to change, for the education system to improve, for doors to open to more people of color.

So I didn't get the artsy atmosphere that I expected. I didn't get the more relaxed atmosphere than Manhattan I expected. 

I do get to live in a "pre-war building." Mine was built in 1920 and probably was a very elegant, high-end place back then. I have parquet floors, high ceilings, big windows -- though my windows face the courtyard and just look out on other windows and gray brick.

To see sky from my apartment, I have to look out the window, up, and to the left. I think I had expected to gaze at a tree from my window. No such thing.

There's a neighborhood near me I'd like to show you next. It's called Ditmas Park, and it too is part of Flatbush.

I did not expect to see anything like it in Brooklyn. 

It's full of beautifully built houses. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder, tight together on plots barely bigger than the houses themselves. But they are so elegant, so beautiful. I walk by them on my way to my favorite café, for a lavender latte, and feel so happy that such beautiful houses exist, and exist in Brooklyn, and exist near my home. And I feel so happy that I'm not responsible for taking care of one, paying for heat, electricity, roofing, repairs. But these houses are eye candy for me. How about you?

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If money were no object and I could afford to own and keep up a home like this, my writing room would be on the third floor in the little round room.

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Tara, anyone?

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Maybe my writing room would be on the second floor, behind the bay window. On nice days I'd sit outside on the upstairs porch.

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The details in these homes are beautiful! See the dentated, curved molding above the curved bay windows? See the scaffolding holding up the left corner? We're talking big dollars...

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How gorgeous! I envy them the porch to sit on. 

in search of the American dream
How about you? Do this kind of house appeal to you? Comment below! And Retweet this post if you enjoyed it!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

In Brooklyn, In Search of the American Dream

Prospect Park in Winter

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

I’d like to shift attention to my life in Brooklyn for this post. Brooklyn is a world-famous city. I saw baseball caps with the name emblazoned on them in Paris, Barcelona, Grenoble (in the French Alps), Lyon (the foodie capital of France).

The gates to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

I always wanted to live in Brooklyn, ever since I was a kid, sitting in my father’s car and driving across Brooklyn to my grandmother’s house on Long Island. Both my parents were born in Brooklyn, and all of my grandmother’s family. They ran a print shop on Atlantic Avenue. My subway stops every day at Atlantic Avenue, on the way to and from work. Small world.

So living in Brooklyn, my dream since childhood, has come true. It’s possible, though, that it falls in the category of “be careful what you wish for.” I walk home between the six-story pre-war brick buildings and it feels so odd, so unlike “home”. I was raised in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Reading, PA, and New Jersey. I’m used to lots of grass, trees, bushes. There’s one bush outside my Brooklyn building, a yew about my height that lists way over to the right. It has a rat hole at the foot of it. The superintendent swept some dirt into one day, while I was talking to him, and he laughed to himself.

Brooklyn is over-built, over-peopled, over-vehicled. I hear horns and sirens constantly, day and night.  There is so much garbage on the streets--plastic bags floating around, or mysterious blobs of whatever that have been ground into the street.  Lots of people means lots of dog lovers. Since quite a few of them don’t pick up after their animals, there’s lots of dog poop. I have to watch the sidewalk every moment, instead of looking at the people passing me.

In fact, I can’t look at the people I pass. They might be exchanging drugs for money and don’t want any witnesses. They might simply be touchy and take offense. They might mistake a woman looking at them as a come-on and make trouble. I’m real careful not to look too closely at anybody. Which frustrates me, because I think it detracts from my ability to be an artist. An artist looks closely and doesn’t turn away. Except me, when to do so may put my life at risk.

The weather is turning milder in New York City. Before it’s too late in the year, I want to share my pictures of winter in Brooklyn.  Of course, the pictures were taken in Prospect Park, the place I go to stay sane.  But it’s tricky, even in the park.

Last week I explored a new area and ended up at the top of a wooded hill. It was the first time ever in the park that I was out of earshot of traffic noise. I was alone, and it was a relief to not have people, strangers, always around.

And as soon as I realized it, I panicked. A woman alone is a magnet for attack. This is the reality women have to live with that most men have no inkling of.

Anyway, let’s explore Prospect Park in winter. It has so many great trees and vistas. And for you, dear blog reader, the pictures probably aren’t accompanied by the sounds of traffic.

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An apartment building in the last light of the sun.

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A feature known as Harry's Wall.

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The little hut, just right of center, sends out smells of marijuana in all seasons.

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

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I love winter because you can see the shapes of trees.

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Another great tree in Prospect Park.

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Another spectacular tree.

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How about you? Do you live within earshot of car horns and sirens all day, all night? Comment below!