Friday, October 23, 2015

Four days in New York City

Lower Manhattan, as seen from Staten Island
It may not sound like an extended vacation, but it felt like so much longer: NYC would probably fill a week in just a day. If you have been following the blog, you have seen how busy I have been with races over the past month or two. They have been coming non-stop, and even now while I am finally starting the post I am sitting in the Charlotte airport on the way to Snowshoe, W-VA for the final race of the season as commissaire.
You can pay either $3.99 a minute to be rikshawed ...
... or pay a few bucks to have access to a bike all day
New York essentially just "came along" and I picked it up. Once I had realized that I will requalify for Executive Platinum once again for 2016 I started having this desire to burn some of my miles. A bit of research and a bit of soul-searching later I had spent $10 in taxes and fees for a First Class ticket to NYC, with plans to revisit the Big Apple for a few days. I mean, doesn't that beat the heck out of sitting around on 63rd Street?
On the way to the Bronx
The initial plan had been to stay with my friend Barry in Lower Manhattan, but his wife, Suzie, threw a monkey wrench. OK, she's always been a bit like a character out of a Woody Allen movie. Sweet, but a bit on the neurotic side. No problem, as there's AirBnB, and it sure hasn't done any harm to our friendship. So on Wednesday I flew into Newark, braved various trains and ticket schemes, and ended up in the Bronx, where my roomlet was located. I knew it was a small place, and I had an inkling that it didn't have an outside window, but I had expected at least a clean place. Regardless, I have stayed in worse before, and host Richard (whom I met briefly) seems to be a decent guy—it was just a shitty little dungeon. But the truth of the matter is that I simply needed a place to put my pull-along and have a place to sleep for a few hours every night, and for that it was adequate. And I can say I have stayed in the Bronx!
My neighborhood
My bed (and most of my room)
So, for the next three full days (and a good part of the nights) I went to museums, joined walking tours, and listened to three cool concerts. Before I had headed to NY I had made a plan of what I wanted to do while in the city. It's just too easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices, so I decided on a plan that at times I adjusted a little but in general followed. Based on this plan I had bought reduced admission tickets to three "attractions," and I think I made the right choice with two of them while the third one was a bit disappointing. My behind-the-scenes tour of the Lincoln Center complex was really not what I had expected, even if we happened to come across a ballet rehearsal in one of the auditoriums and I promptly fell in love with the leading dame..... But I had hoped for a similar tour as the one in Salzburg, with access to the area behind the curtains, so it all was a bit on the thumbs-down side.
Ice skating outside the Rockefeller Building
The Lego Store
The view from below—Rockefeller Center
Much better was the free walking tour of the Grand Central Terminal area, led by a former teacher who in his presentation was quite a character and who imparted more New York history on me in those almost two hours than I had gathered in my previous visits of the city. And talking about "free": There's always the Staten Island ferry that provides one with a fabulous view of Lower Manhattan, hard to beat when Hudson River cruises cost upward of $35. (It also puts you within 10-minute walking range of Flagship Brewing Company a small place that makes the best East Coast IPA I have ever tasted. No kidding! Getting back to the "free theme": Sometimes it's OK to spend that extra money, and I certainly don't regret my Twilight Harbor cruise that took us around Lower Manhattan, under the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, and back out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—all of them twinkling and looking fabulous. That was a truly great tour!
Midtown and Lower Manhattan

The Chrysler Building
The city wakes up to the night
Empire State Building
Free continued with a Garifuna concert in the Atrium at Lincoln Center. Here I am, "Mr. World Music," and I had not even heard of the Garifuna people and their culture and music. The Garifuna are of African origin who were first were brought to St. Vincent and then resettled into Nicaragua, Belize, and Honduras, countries where they continue to speak their language and play their African- and Salsa-influenced music. The artists, Aurelio, and his band are spearheading an effort to bring more recognition to this type of music, and the free concert became a free-for-all dance orgy that brought dozens of crowd members to the stage to swing hips and thrust pelvises. Now I understand why some black women try to augment their posterior! The sexually oriented dance is suggestive and erotic, and apparently New York has a small population of Garifuna, and it seemed as if all of them were in attendance. Wow!
Monheit at Birdland
Aurelio at Lincoln Center
Scofield and Lovano at the Blue Note
I spent several hours on top of the Rockefeller building, in late afternoon, until the colors faded and New York started to sparkle. That was another paid-for attraction for which I'd spent money. It was an unusually calm, warm afternoon and evening, and with me hundreds of snap-shot-snapping tourist were assembled on the top of the building that's just a little less tall than the Empire State Building, but one that provides a totally comprehensive view of  New York south of Central Park (and of the northern boroughs when looking the other way). Spectacular!
Multi-million dollar north-facing apartments on the corner of 7th Avenue and Central Park
Times Square, magnetic during the day and at night
Keep America safe—surveillance cameras on Times Square
In my planning for the trip I had honed in on two jazz concerts, one at the Blue Note and the other at Birdland. On the night of my arrival I saw John Scofield and Joe Lovano play their second set for the night at the Blue Note, and on my last evening I went to see Jane Monheit just off Times Square at the iconic Birdland. The two venues are quite different: While the former is a small club with a few tables crammed in between bar and stage, the latter is a more civilized place with dinner options at reserved tables that provide more elbow room and perfect sight lines. I had a single table just a few feet from the stage (actually, at the Blue Note I had been able to snag a near-perfect spot as well). Acoustically, neither concert was convincing, but that is always made up by the surrounding atmosphere for such an event. And how often does one get to go to one of these legendary jazz venues?
How many selfies can I take with my selfie-stick?
Unconcerned about selfiesticks
Hadn't heard about selfiesticks but would like to meet one
That leaves us with only one more item on the to-do list: museums. Trying to control costs, I visited the MOMA on Friday afternoon when admission is free from 4 until 8 p.m. In Time magazine I had read about the Picasso sculpture exhibit that is currently showing, so that was a definite draw. And close to 4 hours in any one museum are certainly enough for a first visit. Well, I did something similar in the Museum for Natural History, a mostly stuff affair that harks back to the 19th century with all its stuffed animals and dioramas depicting Life on the Prairie and the Roosting Grounds of the Ptarmigan and the Peregrine Falcon. The many dinosaur skeletons were actually more interesting than I would have thought beforehand, and the (much more modern) displays regarding both Earth and the Universe were a bit more 21st-century as well. Still, the place is stuffy and dark-dank unsexy.
Picasso's guitar
Picasso's take on bikes
Picasso's goat
Picasso's hot girlfriend, taking a crap, or something like that (interpretation is always encouraged)
Picasso's phallic-nosed GF
With all these activities I still found time for a nice chat with the owner of Flagship Brewing Company on Staten Island, drifting along 5th Avenue, and bar hopping in Greenwich Village. And lest you think I forgot Barry, the two of us spent a nice evening together over an outrageously expensive meal.  He needed tacos afterward to fill him up.Well, that's New York for you.

The four days went by way too fast, but I collected lasting impressions and memories of things I had not seen before. The subway is still a big mess, and the number of homeless people and panhandlers is outrageous for a civilized country. Selfiesticks are now banned in many public places (but are still allowed on the SI ferry where I noticed one young woman spending literally the entire passage posing for her damn iPhone on the stick without ever turning around to actually see where she was). Food carts are everywhere, but most of them seem to be franchised as the same Halal signs adorn at least 80% of them. Citibike (which was born and modeled after Paris' Velibs) seems to be quite popular, as is the wearing of either very short shorts or tantalizing tight black gym knickers. Sometimes it was quite difficult to concentrate on architectural lines when panty lines (or the lack thereof) were so much closer as well as distinct.

So, you can see, I had fun. Actually, I should do something like this more often—maybe find one of those artists whom I've always wanted to see in concert and build a short city trip around an event. I have the miles, and I can always find the time. It'd be more fun with somebody to share the experience, but alone isn't all that bad either. I'm sure this was not my last visit to the Big Apple.


No comments:

Post a Comment