The Island of Manhattan - my Home for 31 Days

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Autumn in New York

Autumn in New York

M & M Store At Times Square

M & M Store At Times Square
M & M Store At Times Square

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Natural History

Tuesday 3 November and I awake to the familiar sounds of sirens – police, fire and ambulance. They sound 24 hours a day and now simply blend into a soundtrack blithely playing in the background of this New York adventure movie I seem to be starring in. :-)

It is a brisk 8 degrees so I dress – scarf, gloves, 3 jumpers, jacket and bottled water - as I head off into the jungle - towards Central Park and my favorite spots so far. Walking down 8th takes me through places that speak of my own natural history - directly past the George Gershwin Theatre to Columbus Circle and from there I have access to a world of wonder. Time Warner Center, Lincoln Square and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City Opera, (where I booked a couple of shows), the Juilliard School (now that place brought a tear to my eye – memories of performing when I was young) – making mental notes of place to return when I have time – sauntering between Amsterdam and Columbus – past cafes, and churches, and schools and tiny little cute parks and centers for education and development – oh my heart is singing and my legs are screaming.

OK alright I’m listening! I cross over back to Central Park and sit for a while taking lunch and just observing the people as they walk by. Prams pushed and dogs walked – but by Nannies and Assistants. I saw many very young babies out without their mothers and I wondered where they were? Would women living here in such wealth need to work so soon after giving birth? I had nannies for a time with Sam and then Niko while I was running the agency from home so I know the value of a great nanny. It certainly was fascinating to observe the parade of international languages and colors as they chased after their precocious charges while scooping up after the well fed dogs. :-)

The park seems to be deep in thought today. The colors are beginning to fade in preparation for the looming winter and the throngs of New Yorkers here today seem to be taking refuge somewhat. The weather is chillier by the day here yet I get the feeling that this park is always well inhabited. It makes me think of Brisbane where if the mercury goes below 20 we stay at home by the droves. We do not appreciate how lucky we are with our warm weather.
Rested I walked up to the American Natural History Museum - much better than the movie :-) – where I dedicated six hours to the discovery of as much as possible in this beautiful place.

The Theodore Roosevelt hall was goose bump inspiring. The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life - I sat in front of the large screen where whales swam and soothed with singing. I was in heaven! Then the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth, Human Origins, the Dioramas, the Grand Hall, the Fossil Halls, the Grand Gallery. I especially loved the Rose Centre for Earth and Space especially the Journey to the stars and cosmic pathway. It certainly gives one pause for thought. There were a number of halls being renovated and many exhibits closed but it did not matter one iota. This place was filled to the brim and a magical place to spend six hours. My big moment was in the Theodore Roosevelt hall reading about his life and I suddenly felt a kinship with this great man. All my grand aspirations can be read in HIS natural history. This hall is a tribute to the contributions he made to this museum and this city. In Australia, we don't know much about American history. We hear the names from the television shows and movies that form part of our ongoing immersion therapy (thanks ML) however we don't know much about the characters in the American natural history. The entire Roosevelt family were obviously incredibly tuned into human behaviour, nature, culture and the development of the US in many ways. Teddy Roosevelt - now that I have been introduced to him via this medium, was an inspiring fellow. Quotes by him greet the visitor at the entrance of the museum. My favourite is this one:

Nature - There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. Theodore Roosevelt

It's almost closing time and I have to race back from the museum up to 34th street along 8th avenue through peek hour traffic to quickly change, re apply the jungle makeup and hair to go back out again in 30 minutes to the Al Hirschfield Theatre on West 45th Street to see the musical HAIR.

Once I got to the theatre the exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe its jet lag and maybe it's just trying to squeeze New York into every waking moment so I don't miss anything. Between downloading and editing photos, blogging (I'm keeping 4 separate journals), doing Pushworth work daily and updating via Skype with Manny and Sam each night, plus of course actually going out into New York and then there is that little thing known as sleep......well I'm finding it difficult to fit everything in!

But I tell you - it's worth the exhaustion! :-)

Having never seen HAIR before, I had no idea what to expect….and I was pleasantly surprised. Young vibrant cast, singing and dancing and just having a total blast with a 1960s dialogue that is now more comical than topical and they brought the house down. I love the show – that costume mistress must have had fun collecting all the pieces – colorful and imaginative – everything was great!

Dinner afterwards at some Jazz club called Charlie’s where the trio were as old as my parents. Great voices and I imagine that in their youth they spent time on the boards of Broadway and now they sing for the supper in the city jazz clubs. (Time to consider some sort of universal retirement plan for aging performers and musicians mmmmm)

I am exhausted and sleep heavily and late and dream that I am home with my family.

Ah sweet dreams…

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Cost of Culture




I stumble around this city day after day exploring different streets, neighborhoods and boroughs like a voyeur, a witness and criminal investigator. The characters I meet throughout my day are strong, interesting and all worthy of their own great novel. It is beginning to become more obvious – who lives here and who is visiting and a distinct divide is starting to emerge.

New Yorkers tend to avoid Times Square in particular yet going to live shows is an important part of their social culture. Last night I had dinner at the Russian Tea Room surrounded by d├ęcor and diners from another world. Gaudy gold trimmed mirrors on every wall, bright red couches and speckled carpets, deep arctic green walls complete with a hand painted solid gold ceiling, it could almost have been the Velvet Cigar - resplendent in pimp and circumstance! (Not a typo – the waitresses dressed very similar to the hostesses at Brisbane’s most famous gentlemen’s club) Woody Allen clones – tiny artistic thick accented expressive New York men with their beautiful doll like wives – of various ages and styles – sampled the Kiev, the Borscht and the Caviar. Musicians, Actors, Directors and Theatre Goers alike were served by a more efficient wait staff I have never seen. The table waiter swept over to my table in between courses, re folded the napkins, rearranged the table, refilled glasses, decrumbed and decreased the table cloth in a split second. I could almost hear his sweet satisfaction as he finished his tidying task – ah yes a perfect job for a perfectionist! :-)

Naturally the restaurant itself is one big store with everything for sale. A merchandising gift shop is standard in this fair city selling items such as a hand painted Babushka doll set for $1500.00. The sale of fantasy to a tourist seeking New York magic is relatively easier when engaging in light banter about country of origin, reason for visit and length of stay. From those few questions, any New York salesman with half a brain can more than double their income by selling the eager happy tourist the particular illusion they came here for. :-)

What a great lesson in enterprise!
What a wonderful tutorial in commerce?
What a wonderful seminar for life?

After dinner, I went to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Lorin Maazel was the conductor and they performed Beethoven’s 6th and 7th symphonies.

The hall filled quickly and was quite a buzz with chatter. It seemed like most of the people knew each other. If this night was a movie, I was right in the middle of a 21st century Fiddler on the Roof. I had a ticket in the Dress Circle – almost nose bleed territory – yet incredible seats! Remember those tiny teeny little wooden chairs we had in primary school? Well someone covered them in red velvet and installed thousands of them in rows not more than nine inches apart into every level of Carnegie Hall.

The bell rang, the lights went down and the concert began. Beethoven is certainly the king of building tension through his music. I was fluttering through the breeze with the birds and next I was feeling the drama of the seasons – it was beautiful. The lady sitting beside me clasped my hands at the end of the first movement and in her finest Fran Drescher esque accent she whispered – “We don’t applaud here until the end.”

The musicians stop – take a breather and the audience mumble to each other softly and shift in their seats and then it all starts over again for the next few movements until the crescendo and the finale. Phew! I made it – I can now clap and yell “bravo”! Maazel did a fine job in the 6th but it was the 7th where his showmanship glittered. The second movement of this symphony featured in this year’s movie KNOWING starring Nichola Cage. As Sam had taken quite a fancy to it, I couldn’t help but feel quite emotional during the performance. The third and fourth movements were astounding and Maazel began to dance and jump and conduct wildly with the same passion that I remember my intoxicated father had while conducting the stereo in our lounge room during my childhood in the 1970s. Orange wallpaper and Beethoven’s Fifth – ah memories…..:-)

Everything featured in this night, the hall, orchestra, seating, staffing, services – have been heavily supported by New York patronage. $80 million dollars a year is provided through sponsorship and donation to keep this one arts organization alive. There are thousands of other such arts organizations being given the breath of life on an annual basis by similarly generous individuals. Art and Culture costs much and people like me get to appreciate it through the continuous support of wealthy New Yorkers. This is no small thing. My exposure to the various forms that business takes while in New York is a greater education than I could have ever paid for at university. This system of wealth is comprehensive and of enormous value.

It was delicious listening to the various characters around me. Mrs. Fengelstein’s leg was playing up, Mrs. Zechandorf’s hips simply couldn’t make those stairs and Mr. Kaufman’s legs were way too long – he needed an aisle seat! :-) Sure I sat in the middle of a walking sticked, orthopedic shoed, grey haired audience, many of the men wearing skullcaps and the tiny impeccably dressed bird like women were definitely going to the same hairdresser however I loved it and felt right at home. I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter than to live in a small village like NY and get together with my mates at gigs such as this one. :-)

So I get to go to a rock concert featuring the world's greatest celebrities and stars at Madison Square Garden and a few days later I listen to one of my favourite composers played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall - and all for the cost of a medium priced pair of shoes.

How lucky are we that so many other people pay the cost of our exposure to this culture?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Push the Button Max!

Max was the name of the horse that took us around in a carriage complete with thick red blanket through Central Park late last night. His irish driver, thick with fresh from Dublin "specially for tourists" accent, gave us a very informative and detailled tour of the park and its surrounds and history while the themometer dropped to six degrees - nice and chilly - and the full moon shone ever so brightly overhead.

I could only imagine the cold if this tour was taken in February - brrrr - however what a great job it would be to take tourists through the park every night. It was just beautiful!
Poor Max - how he struggled to drag us through the streets of the Park. I shouldnt have eaten that burger - Max just wasnt coping with the extra weight of the rock hard beef pattie. Thank god I didn't eat any cheese or bacon - Max would have keeled over!! :-) If any of you have eaten the cheese and the bacon in the US, you will know why. Not pleasant - they must have another version of pig and cow over here because their dairy and pork products are revolting. (No offence intended - just my opinion - I've been spoilt by living in Australia all my life)

Now I had actually walked down and back from 34th to 59th twice yesterday. Great walking - other than being dragged along through the park by poor old Max. Walking is easy - New York Streets are a great system except Broadway - it stuffs everything up - so say the locals. Oh and they don't like Times Square - they shake their head and mumble - you mean 42nd Street!!!
Just to give you an idea of distances here. I am staying in the New Yorker Hotel on 34th Street. Imagine it is my house on Sumner Road. Where the pub is - thats where Madison Square Garden is. Where the Caltex service station is - thats where Empire State Building is. Mount Ommaney Shopping Centre is Times Square and Cooranga Street, Jindalee is where Central Park is. I have decided to walk most places after my monthly $89 Metro Card was eaten at the turnstile. I'm not holding a grudge however I'm happy to walk rather than play the pokies and lose while purchasing tickets at the Subway. If they add some purple carpet, bad covers bands, bright neon lights and some free drinks, I may reconsider. :-)

I really appreciate Brisbane - how lucky are we? New York is fabulous - however, we truly have a wonderful life in Brisbane. It takes a contrast with one of the world's greatest cities to realise this good fortune. Even our stinking hot summers are worth appreciating!! I love being in New York however I am sooo looking forward to coming home in a month. We have a beautiful life in Brisbane!

Taking the return ride back to the Park in the horse and carriage, we ventured out near the New York Opera house and it was here that we witnessed the first real episode of New York road rage. One taxi was exiting from the side and the one behind him sped up to cut him off. Standard Brisbane traffic operations right? Well the chinese dude driving the cut off taxi, jumped out of the cab, smashed the front of the other taxi with his fists, yelled and screamed, kicked and punched and then got back in his cab with that ever familiar phrase" Welcome to New York". I love how they use this for everything. :-) Then he proceeded to sit in his cab blocking off the rest of the traffic while all the cabs around him just sat there and honked their horns as Max kept his head down and simply clip clopped off in the distance.

Yup makes the Coronation Drive peak hour traffic look very polite. :-) If there were no cabs and only horses like Max - I wonder what road rage would look like then?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New York Marathon and Rangers


I signed up to volunteer at the NYC Marathon so awaking at 6.30am - dressed and out by 7am - I walked down to Central Park and got there by 7.30am - and met up with the team that were setting up the infrastructure for this event.

What a privelege for me to see a major event like this in full swing? I was able to take photographs of various infrastructure activities and walk around the man made track and check out the event system throughout the morning.

We had to set up water, cups, tables and then delegate and manage volunteers through their tasks. Doesnt sound like much but with a few thousand people - this is one massive exercise.

Meeting local New Yorkers was a special treat and gaining insight into the workings of the vast networks of volunteering with the event management - I gleaned much valuable information to take home with me to provide a better event service to all of our clients in the future.

It was an incredible honour to be involved in such an event.

The mid morning break enabled me to take brunch at The Boathouse - gorgeous little restaurant in the middle of Central Park. I took some photographs but nothing will compare to the real thing. The colours here are mesmerising. This park enables New Yorkers to breathe. I sure felt good checking it out a little.

After my shift, I watched the end of the disabled racers. Incredible efforts and every single racer was cheered wildly from every single person watching the track. Everyone talks to everyone and they are ready to encourage and cheer on anyone - there is not limit or distinction. I watched the lead women's and then the men runners. Many people thought I was British and there to cheer on "Paula" - the British chick who has won the NYC Marathon for the past 2 years. Clearly the favourite, when she passed our vantage point, her muscles looked exhausted and tight and it is no surprise to me that she didn't win this year. Still, there was a massive marketing campaign with hats, T Shirts and Cheering Boards given to the crowds to spur her on.

I couldn't stay all day at the NYX Marathon as I had tickets to see the New York Rangers play off Boston at 1pm. Walking back from Central Park, I took Fifth and then Broadway to get there within 30 minutes. It is very easy to find your way around here.

I got the cheapest tickets in the house - nose bleeding territory. Section 406 - right at the top. I climbed 6 flights of stairs and was seriously thinking of dumping the tickets until I saw the view. I saw EVERYTHING. Best tickets I think I have ever had!

Freezing at MSG - the ice hockey was brilliant - and I watched a tense game and purchased - yes - shock horror - one of those big blue hands that points one finger in victory!!!

Back at the room after the game, some Pushworth work done - and now I'm out to see a Broadway show - anyone I can get cheap tickets for - they are everywhere!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Welcome To New York Ma'am!


I’ve noticed that when things go wrong here, the locals say “Welcome to New York Ma'am!”
Well today, Halloween – the All Hallowed Eve – a whole pile of things went wrong and I was welcomed many MANY times.

I awoke early after my big night of rock as we were taking the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island to find the Decker Farm in Richmond to pick pumpkins for Halloween and needed an early start. Now I have travelled many times and am always extremely careful. I separate my cash and my cards and my ID and have a system so that I know where everything is at all times – it is safe and protected. Right? Wrong. Last night I decided not to take a handbag. I have deep pockets in Manny’s leather jacket on the inside where I wrapped up one $50 dollar note, my credit card and my room card. I held my ticket in my hand until I was sure that I was seated in the correct spot.

I kept my jacket on and continually felt up my left boob/pocket to check that everything was in place.

My ticket was section 330, Seat 6 Row H. I checked in through Gate 76 and was escorted to my seat. 30 minutes later a group of loud New Yorker bud swilling Armani suited men (quite possibly the twerps that lost billions of dollars in Wall Street - ouch) told me to move out of their seat. I showed them my ticket and sweetly said I was escorted here and believed it was the correct seat. They dragged over another security guy who promptly told me I was in the wrong seat.

“Welcome to New York Ma'am! – the loud New Yorkers shouted as I moved myself back to the correct seat.

I didn’t care – the new seat had a far better view and was surrounded by empty seats – bargain! I continued to feel my inside pocket throughout the concert and everything was in place.

As I exited - I checked and felt 2 cards and my cash.

I checked on 7th.

I checked just after I ran into Annie Lennox.

I checked as I grabbed my hotel room card in the lobby of the New Yorker and yes there were 2 cards in my pocket.

I raced inside ready for my Skype call and through all my clothes on the floor of the bathroom and talked excitedly for the next 30 minutes and promptly forgot about the cards.

Preparing to go out this morning, I went to my pocket – like I have done every morning so far – and I found the ticket and the $50 dollar note. My credit card is not in my pocket. I checked all my clothes, in my bag, on the bathroom floor, under my bed – nowhere to be found. I retraced my steps and remember that I felt it when I entered the lobby of the hotel.

So either it fell out of my pocket when I reached in for my hotel card or it vanished into thin air somewhere in my hotel room.

Ugh - can you believe it? Losing a credit card in my first week in New York?

I went on line, checked the latest transactions, made a list of all transactions in the past few days, emailed my bank manager in Australia and called Mastercard global.

“Welcome to New York. Ma'am” the fellow in the call centre said sarcastically - we'll send you a replacement card in 3 days.

A little freaked but with enough cash plus my ATM card, I was seriously not terribly inconvenienced, yet I tried to rationalize the reason for this experience. What did I have to learn here? Was I getting a little cocky about living in New York and needed to be brought down to earth a little? The card wasn’t getting that much action and I’m very careful with security. So what the?

Catching the downtown loop to Battery Park, I spy my first real glimpse of the Statue of Liberty then catch the free Staten Island Ferry. I got a good look at New York harbor – Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn with Staten Island is located at its entrance.

Politically incorrect - I have to say - this little island has a distinct “Blair Witch” feel to it. You know that well known poster of the old man and his wife holding a pitchfork? Yup – those folks live here in Staten Island - I'm sure of it! Initial response upon arrival - scary odd little place. Catching the bus from St George through to Richmond, I notice that almost every second building is a medical institution of some kind. There must be a lot of sick people here! I've never seen anything like it! Some hospitals looked like they had come straight out of the “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Next” movie. I half expected to see Jack Nicholson peeking out of one of the windows. :-)

It was a huge contrast to Manhattan and quite unsettling.

Loading onto the bus – “Where you headed Maam?”
Oh crap – I left the directions at the hotel.
“Um we are picking pumpkins on a farm.”
“Say what?”
Silence in the bus as the locals stare down the weird foreigners with no friggin clue where they are going.
“Um we are looking for the Decker Farm I think?”
The bus driver said ‘Sounds like you are lost – Welcome to New York Ma'am”. “You need the Historic Richmond Town” – so we took a punt and decided what the hell - i there were no pumpkins there would be old buildings – sounded fine.

It took 25 minutes to drive through very poor housing, tiny houses, even smaller streets, many American flags and extreme poverty. However these cute little houses were all adorned with the most incredible Halloween decorations. Graveyards in the front yard, witches, ghosts, pumpkins, cobwebs – it was incredible and better than some of our Qld Xmas light displays.

Arriving at Richmond, we were dropped off on the side of the road, I took out my camera – and the battery was dead.
“Don’t say it – I know – welcome to New York aarrgghhhhhh!!!!!!&&##!!!”

The most glorious autumn colours, historical buildings and oddest of sights - yup - I have no way of capturing any of these images.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT????
CAN THIS DAY GET ANY BETTER?????

Walking down the street through rustling brown and gold leaves floating to the earth, squelching under feet - crisp and happy - we walk past houses that look haunted by their past, imprinted by painful memories and broken down organically by time – the way that the autumn leaves gradually dissolve into the earth and fertilize it for new growth.

I was sure that old man and his wife would chase us down this deserted eery street with that pitchfork in one hand and screaming ‘ “Welcome to New York” – the scene was breathtakingly beautiful and unsettlingly evil all at once.

We walked around the village and discovered the Pumpkin Patch sign in time for an old yellow school bus to come along and take us to Decker Farm - no charge - just like the Staten Island ferry.

This quirky strange little place began to look warm and comforting. Chatting to the bus driver her entire family live in Staten Island and refuse to move to Manhattan - she has lived here her whole life. As she speaks about her family and we drive through old farmland and family suburbs, with young famillies trick or treating through the magically decorated houses and it becomes clear about the home town appeal of living here.

My initial creepy feeling about this place begins to dissipate by the time we reach the Decker farm – the one remaining farm on the island. I sample pumpkin pie, (Almost as good as grandma’s pumpkin scones) pick pumpkins, (large, orange and sweet) take a hay ride and buy some locally knitted ghost and witch puppets. The farm itself is 200 years old, most of the buildings remain albeit held together with prayers and moss and it is easy to see that life on it throughout thsoe 200 years would have been extreme.

Back on the bus, back on the ferry, we leave American history behind and return to Manhattan - the city where everything and everyone is seemingly for sale. The quest - find Chinatown by walking through wall Street, down to Broadway past the City Hall and magnificient parks and discover life on Canal Street - the home of Chinatown and discount shopping. (I'm safe - no credit card remember?)

On the map it looked close but one hour later we were still wandering aimlessly - hungry, tired, smelly in the sweltering heat of the Autumn day until I finally spotted a Hungry Jacks symbol with asian writing on the sign. My craving for seafood and rice complete I feel extra brave and make the fool hardy decision to take the subway back home.

It’s Halloween remember? Kids and parents and trick or treating on every street corner, Halloween Parade blockades are installed at strategic spots along Broadway and throngs of people push me down the subway before I locate the map and confirm which track to take.
I decide to take a punt, if I take the 4 to Brooklyn Bridge - I can change to the J and get off at 14th Union Square if all else fails.

I saunter over to the turnstile and swipe my Metrocard (I purchased a 30 day card for $89 on Thursday – I was so proud of myself) WRONG!!! It wouldn’t let me through– insufficient funds! What the? I’ve used it twice. I go over to the guy at the ticket machine –

“Welcome to New York Maam! – You’ll need to buy another ticket – I can’t help you.”

Arrrgghhhh – fine – I buy another one – and gain access to the track and hop on the 4 - fingers crossed and hopefully heading north. My stomach churns when two French ladies beside me ask in broken English “Does anyone know where we are going?” To which a loud little guy from New Jersey declares that he has no clue either. Lucky for all of us, this lovely young tall local guy announces that we are headed north towards 14th. Phew! The Jersey guy is pissed and tells the whole carriage about how bad Manhattan subways are - very loudly proclaiming that a foreigner would be screwed trying to take the subway tonight giving me the chance to pipe up - “Well yes I’m from Australia and I don’t know where the hell I’m going” .

“Welcome to New York Ma'am!”

And this lovely fellow proceeds to give me directions to get off closest to 34th Street. He is from Queens and headed towards 59th Street for the Halloween Village celebration.and proceeds to guide me to the correct station to disembark and even gives me directions for which street to take.

Sure there have been rude people here - but for the most part - I have met such helpful people here in New York. They don’t have to help – but have gone out of their way to welcome me – he he – on several occasions – and give me whatever helpful hints they can.

I exited at 33rd Street – Park Avenue – ahhh – no credit card – no shopping – a good thing. Crossed Madison Avenue – ah – visit another time - don't look - head down - focus on getting home. Continued down to 34th and once I saw the familiar ledges of the Empire State, I knew I was close to home.

Streets packed with costumed trick or treaters, the air is alive with celebration, colour and magic tonight.

I feel very welcome in New York!

The Return of the Rock Chick

I was sold one limited view ticket for the 25 years of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert. Limited view – I thought – how bad could it be? :-)

Well ..........my view was substantially better than the folks seated directly behind the stage. I saw side of stage and the screen in the ceiling and on the side. Seriously it was a fine view considering the talent I was being served – and what a feast that was!

Tom Hanks introduced the evening. Tiny neat little man – well spoken – clean – slight – he read from the autocue facing me very succinctly. He looked much shorter that I would imagine. He introduced the first act, Aretha Franklin – a larger than life character resplendent in her bright red sparkled full length gown – divine up swept hair. For a woman in her 70s, she is incredible. And her vocal range would put a girl 1/3 of her age to shame. She sang all her famous hits and was joined on stage by Annie Lennox and Lenny Kravitz. Finishing with R.E.S.P.E.C.T. she introduced her band and most of them were related to her in some way and all looked well fed and of normal size. They were the exception to the rule.

From the grey haired roadies on the ground directing bump in and bump out to the stage hands, techies and backing musos to finally the rock stars themselves – being 50,60 and 70 doesn’t necessarily mean looking older. Either the drugs they have done over the past few decades have mummified them at an eternal 30, they have their plastic surgeons on retainer or they are secretly robots programmed for our entertainment (ya never know) but these dudes looked healthy, fit and sensational.

Jeff Beck and his band were up next and were exceptional. Jeff is in his 60s I think and looked 30. It looked like perhaps his daughter – couldn't be anymore than 20 years of age – was on bass guitar – and her playing brought tears to my eyes. John Pattitucci eat your heart out – she was the stand out musician of the evening. Jeff had several special guests – Sting – one of the beared old dudes from ZZ Top and Buddy Gay.

Metallica – the best front man ever – performed all the song I know from Alex and Niko playing Guitar Hero :-). Enter Sandman was just fantastic!!! They connected to the crowd in such a personable fashion - I really appreciated them. They gigged with Ray Davies from the Kinks and Ozzy Osbourne - I know - who would have though right - Ozzy friggin Osbourne!!! Ozzy looked fantastic – tiny, slim, healthy – he was literally bouncing on stage with his consistent – "Come on F**kers!" to the crowd (Eerytime he yelled it I thought of you Kate – he he) Topped off with U2, (Bono - by the way who needed the autocue to sing his own songs - what the?) Bruce Springsteen, Fergie from Black Eyed Peas mixing it up on stage, the night was a perfect way to introduce me to MY KIND of New York.

All the guys performing on stage (with the exception of Aretha and her band - they looked human) looked like gods! After the show I took off in the last song and exited with the staff and noticed all the agents and managers looking exhausted old and fat. Interesting mmmmm???? Food for thought. This concert reminded me how much I missed being a rock chick. I would have performed most of the songs that I heard tonight myself while gigging and it certainly brought back memories of life on stage and on the road. Since ending that incarnation and focusing on being the mother and/or corporate bitch characters, I have shut down the Rock Chick, stuck her in a cupboard and locked the door. Yet tonight I really wanted to let her out and rescue her from the deep dark recesses of suburban have tos!!

I work in the Music Industry yet rarely go and see a live show as it is too much like work. Tonight reminded me of the joy that rock and roll brings. It seriously does - how can you be angry and depressed when your heart beats in time with the drums and bass!:-)

Observing the audience I saw a mix of Armani suited Wall Street Guys – Bud in one hand and head banging with the other – families dragging their early reluctant teens with them – invariably Dad wearing his tattered daggy original Metallica T Shirt plus the standard groupies – albeit older – still killer bodies however with the faces of grannies.

Dodging the end of concert crush I escaped in the final song, raced out through 7th, took the block down to 34th and weaved in between paparazzi, stretch limousines waiting for their masters to emerge, screaming fans and police and security everywhere. As I dashed down the street, I tripped on the footpath and fell to within an inch of Annie Lennox freshly emerged from one of the sidewalk autograph signing areas. I apologized and told her I loved her in the Wizard Of Oz – (no idea where that came from) she giggled and wished me a good night.

Back to the room home in time for my Skype call with Alex and Tim – clearly more important than star watching across the road with the Papparazzi.

The Rock Chick safely back in the cupboard for now - had a blast! Thank You New York!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sleepy Little Town


Yesterday was stuffed with activity. It didnt seem like much but I woke exhausted.


The plan was to do a little shopping and then take the Downtown Loop to check out Soho and finally check out the Statue of Liberty.


Yeah well, I'm not very hurried here at all. After sauntering around the neighbourhood, checking out stores and shops and having a leisurely breakfast at herald Square, I stumble across St Francis of Assisi church and I'd check it out. A mass began just as I made my entrance and so I spent an hour and a half listening to my first New York Catholic sermon. The mosaic above the altar was spectacular and I must admit I was enchanted by the artwork through the church. One in particular showing Dante Aligheri and Christopher Columbus was especially attractive. The church was built in 1929 - not its not terribly old. however it has that real 1930s New York feel to it. (Like Empire State Building and the New Yorker hotel which is home for a while) There is an air of creativity and freshness and the new with this style of decor that is juxtaposed against its dated colours.


The fransiscan priest spoke in the thickest of New York accents I have heard so far and his whole sermon was dedicated to the love of the Jews. Apparently there is vicious rivalry in NY between Catholics and Jews. (Catholics being Irish and Italian) I chatted to an old man after the service who recalled his youth in the violence of racial and relgious uprisings in this regard. Forgive my ignorance, however I have seen so many Jews since being in New York. I say that word carefully, it is merely an identifyer for people dressed in traditional clothing, the hat and the curly hair down each side. I've not encountered contact in thsi way in Brisbane - ever. So it is fascinating to be introduced to a whole new world here.


Sitting in the church, taking in the images and listening to the words, I understand a little more about the symbolic language in this "story" and feel quite priveleged about the education I have been given. A mass in the middle of the day in busy New York city, people from all walks of life and it is jam packed! Wow you'd be lucky to have 100th of that number attend on a Sunday - the prime time in Brisbane. Very interesting!


Suitably inspired, I leave the church and become hopelessly lost somewhere between 6th and 5th avenues. I emerge right next to Victoria's Secret stores. It's a Sign!!!!! :-) Oh Alex - this shop is divine - just perfect for a Capricorn birthday shopping trip! :-) Then I visited JC Penney and checked out the levels of fashion options. Bought a couple of things for myself - another religious experience!


Back home to sleep for a couple of hours as I am off to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame concert tonight at Madison Square Garden featuring: Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, U2, Lenny Kravitz and Metallica. It's great to be so close to this concert hall. Walking back home I watched the aging stage hands bump in the incredible truckloads of gear. Those guys have probably been on the road for most of their lives. Now grey haired, they still look as hooked on the music as ever.


Getting Down to Business




Halloween starts early here. Officially it is celebrated on All Soul’s Eve however television shows are crammed full of costume ideas and Halloween specials and last night while walking home at midnight, I encountered many teenaged trick or treaters testing out their costumes.
Pumpkins line the streets – real pumpkins – smelling sweet and juicy – colours and shades of harvest – purples, reds, oranges and yellows – an incredible sight. Costumes feature in store windows and everyone is offering 50% off for anything to do with Halloween. There is big money in this holiday.


Thursday was my day to find Thanksgiving supplies for Alex in order to post back home in time for her celebration. At first it appeared that there was none to be found. Many a shop girl told me that they had to wait until after Halloween before showing the new holiday stock. Then I visited K Mart – not like ours – a very snazzy smart looking store on 7th just behind Penn Station – and there I struck gold.

In amongst the Dracula capes, witches hats, broomsticks and Michael Jackson white gloves, was one line of scarecrows, autumn leaves, green men and all the thanksgiving dinner items I could possibly desire.

My first assignment out of the way, I detour back across the street to the United States Post Office. Nothing like our tiny little suburban shops, imagine the Treasury Casino building times 4 – majestic imposing edifice promising through rain hail sleet and snow to deliver – (disclaimers – as long as you fill in the right form clearly and are prepared to wait in line for two hours) Yes that’s two hours of my life that I will never get back. I must admit, after buying the enormous box to mail the thanksgiving treasures home in, and feeling extra proud that I found the correct customs form and completed it, I got to listen to the most jaw dropping conversations while standing in line.

New Yorkers are always talking. Walking along the street, they are talking into their cell. They talk to themselves, talk into their cells, yell at each other – friends and strangers alike – on the street – they are always making noise and communicating. A cacophony of accents from every country on the face of the earth is heard on every street corner, however in the post office line, I only heard one – strong, broad, loud and clear New Yorker. Fascinating!! I smiled to myself as they discussed the Yankees playoffs, co workers not using the GPS on their I Phones, (apparently that is a major travesty), girlfriends dissing boyfriends, husbands cajoling wives and then cooing to their girlfriends in the next call. I stood there and smiled as an entire culture of system, structure, expectation and design was on display. I learned much.

When I finally had my number called, I could almost hear angels singing and bells ringing. Alas, my excitement was short lived. Wrong form – here’s the right one – fill it in and get back in line. Nooooooo – but I did as I was told. (As you do in this fair city!) This time it only took 25 minutes – I felt blessed by the good fairy of the USPC and found myself back in front of an associate before too much longer.

The lady had to type in all the form particulars herself and explained as she went that the USPC like most US companies had laid off 75% of their workers to go automated, on line, self service and more work for each worker lucky enough to retain their job. I did notice signs advising the public to buy their stamps on line – simply print and paste and then self post! Amazing!
The poor lady entering my information struggled with all the details and collapsed in laugher when she got to the name of the suburb. Wooll OOooN Gerrrbba – no that cant be real? Seriously? You guys have weird names huh? Oh well, maybe she needed a little entertainment?
My post office experience done – it was time for breakfast – at 12pm. There are some amazing places to eat here. I must say the selection and standard of food available here is broader than my memory of San Fransisco. Autumn is the season for soup and there are plenty of healthy options available. I found a little shop called AU BON PAIN and had a naked chicken salad – no dressing in sight – yoo hoo – and the most mouth watering bread stick I have ever tasted with my chicken soup. Breakfast and lunch in one meal!

I headed off to 35th to find the Jacob Javits Convention Center to register at the New York Marathon expo for event volunteers. Then I had a meeting with one of the hundreds of New York volunteer centers in the city and registered for orientation and training for the endless array of events coming up in November. Wow I could seriously work every day while I’m here. This city runs on Volunteering and I learned much about why that is and how corporate this aspect really is. In fact this whole city is Business and Marketing 101. I keep remembering the Maths Professor I sat next to on the way to LA and this city is based on numbers. There is a cause and a system and a structure and an organisation and a corporation backing all of it - set up for every possible human need. Walk around the streets – huge advertising screens are sending messages marketing a variety of “social” needs – sponsored by some hefty major corporations – and selling in every word and image and sound.

Why go to Uni for Masters in Business – just spend some time in New York – observe – question and soak it all in.

Wanting to get my bearings, I decided to catch one of those Hop On Hop Off buses to give me an overview of the city. So I take the subway to 42nd Street as most activity seems to begin there. I get a Metro Card for the month so now I have a card that I can use on trains, buses and subways until I leave. Great system!

I find the northern end of 42nd street and locate a Gray Lines bus and take the Uptown trip towards Central Park. Now we’re talking! It’s like two different cities. The Garment District – where I am staying – and the Central Park district – Lincoln Centre, Columbus Circle, Upper West and East, Harlem, Fifth Avenue and the Museum Mile.

It’s been a divine day weather wise and I sit at the top of the open bus and finally find some use for my thick jacket – brrrr – freezing. The colours in Central Park were just as I imagined. Yellow leaves line the city streets, beaming from dark black trunks coursing down to ruddy brown pavements littered with variegated shades of brown and green and red and orange and purple and yellow leaves. We drive past the famous landmarks - New York opera House, Donald Trump Towers, Time Warner Center, Columbia State University, Dakota Building where John Lennon was shot and I marvel at the stately wealth of these haughty 19th century buildings. Rich with attitude instead of history, unlike London or Paris with their hundreds of years of glory in their stories, these New York Buildings hold an air of majestic unusual for such a short length of time. There is a sense that New Yorkers love their stories and live and breathe them so intensely that they leave their mark on every street corner, park bench and brick in every building.

I only get random peeks at Central Park as the tour bus weaves its way through the Upper West Side. Reaching Riverside drive I see across the Hudson River towards New Jersey and it looks warm and inviting as the colours of Autumn hug its terrain. As tempted as I was, I dare not disembark until I plot my subway route. It would be easy to spend every day around Central Park – and get lost without one clue how to return home again.

This was my reconnaissance mission. Two and one half hours of mental note taking for returnables, I felt a pang of disappointment that I didn’t choose accommodation in this area for THIS was the New York in my imagination.

Turning the corner to return to Columbus Circle, I spy the famous Plaza hotel and smell the line of horses and buggies prancing for would be passengers for their jaunt around the park at night. That smell would be enough to clear anyone’s sinuses and I imagine the manure would contribute enormously to the incredible gardens in that area. :-)

It is almost nightfall, the sun setting adds a purple tinge to the well lit New York sky and as I make my way from 42nd Street on foot back to 34th Street, I am amazed at how familiar this already seems to me.

Dinner was at Tir Na Nog again. I had been fantasising about the steak and the second visit did nothing to dispel that infatuation. Mouth watering food, buzzing atmosphere, the staff already seem to know us and the meal is like grandma’s hug – warm and familiar and just plain lovely.
Walking back from the restaurant, I look up at the sky at the blue lit tower that I have been looking at every night and wondered where the Empire State Building was. Then it dawned on me that I had been looking at it all along. It looked very close, so 9pm at night, I decided to take a closer look.

It is open until 2am each day and regardless of the late hour, there were queues of foreigners coiled along the length of the Second Floor. Taking the NY Skyride first – a Movieworld type simulated ride of a helicopter ride in New York was a great introduction to the city – from this alien’s perspective.

Then we queued and lined up and after an hour finally reached the Observation Deck on 86th floor. Not terribly cold outside as one would imagine, I walked around the top of the ESB and tried to identify various landmarks from a bird eyes perspective. Gorgeous place to be at night – so glad to have visited on the spur of the moment.Walking home at midnight, throngs of people move on the sidewalk walking in time to the beat of whatever song is playing in their heads at the time. It feels safe on the streets at night – people everywhere – music, talking, laughter, eating, drinking – I’m wondering when these people ever sleep?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steady Rain





It s Wednesday 28th October and a light drizzle greets me outside on my first full day in New York.

Breakfast at Starbucks – of course- there is practically one on every street corner. I buy a turkey salad sandwich and cup of green tea. It’s 9am and the workers rush has subsided somewhat and there isn’t much of my anticipated “have to” energy on the street. Everyone has a job to do but there isn’t much adrenalin – very casual and laid back. Every line in every Robert De Niro movie I’ve ever watched is yelled up and down the street as I saunter past unhurried and unsure where to go first. I’m looking forward to my opportunity to yell “Hey I’m walkin’ here!” – and am somewhat disappointed with the polite calm of the pedestrians, taxis, buses and cars. They’re all just going along with their business of the day. I purchase a bright pink umbrella from the nearest drug store, button up Manny’s oversized leather jacket and head off towards Macys.

Forgetting to pack a handbag would be the silliest thing I have ever done on an overseas trip – I think – until I walk into Macy’s bag sale and marvel at my intelligence in simply having to buy one here today.  It could be Harrods in London – very similar hustle and bustle about it – as I navigate my way through the delicious smells of the leather bags. Avoiding eye contact with the Louis Vuitton range at the end of the store, I stay in the middle and take a good hour to decide. Those who know me will be surprised with this comment. I’m an IN/OUT in five minutes kinda girl yet today in New York I feel as if I have all the time in the world. Knowing I am here for one month, reduces the tension and there is no real need to do anything at all today. This is a new feeling for me – a rainy wet day, lingering jet lag haze washing over me with no particular goal that MUST be achieved – I could get used to this!

I purchase the bag that met the bag benchmark – hey I didn’t say I wasn’t pedantic – just unhurried -  - and got the latest swine flu gossip from the shop girls as they made the sale. 80% of the floor was away with flu, they told me – it was rife in Texas and working its way up to New York. The temperature inside the store was boiling hot – the girls said it was like this every day and they attributed this to the high rate of illness amongst the staff. They were noting which items were contaminated – telephone, benchtops, cash register – and by the time we were done, I was totally freaked out about touching any door knobs, escalator railings or public items of any kind. (geez doesn’t take much does it?)

I found another store and bought myself a lighter jacket, socks, PJs and a couple of shirts and spent $40.00. Really lovely stuff and incredibly cheap. Making a mental note of the address so I can return later, I made my way up to 38th street checking out stores along the way. My focus today was to purchase the hand bag – check! – and the thanksgiving decorations. Halloween everywhere – nothing for Thanksgiving. Apparently they wait until after Halloween before they put them out. Pumpkins line most streets in pseudo city rustic displays  - they look great next to the copious bags of rubbish on the streets. Actually I’m surprised – New York city is very clean and tidy. Smoke billows up from the grids on the street corners on a regular basis. I’m assuming this is from the subways below.

After walking for 4 hours, I find my way back to the room to drop of my booty, Google thanksgiving decorations and then go back out again. Jetlag catches up and I sleep for three hours – ah delicious. Comfortable, divine bed – window open to the city, dry and warm away from the rain – it was a really great sleep – speaking from experience of not sleeping well for a very long time now.

Waking up and fuelled, I go to Penn Station across the road and take my first subway trip to Times Square. It was only one stop – I could have easily walked it. Ah well, Subway conquered at least! Disembarking at 42nd Street, I saw Bubba Gump to my left and nothing of consequence to my right. Did I make a mistake? Surely THIS can’t be Time Square? Not willing to look like a tourist and ask anyone, I walk up the street and spy a street chock a block with theatres - ooh I think I’ve found Broadway!  Walked up and along until I reached the Times Square I knew from TV. Buzzing with people seeking cheap theatre tickets, neon lit advertising signs, it rained down hard on me while I negotiated my way through the umbrella-ed throng and visited the M and M store and then Toys R Us. How much do I miss having little kids right now? Marie Rose – don’t ever take Hamish to M & M store – he will have a coronary with all the chocolate. Toys R Us – I searched the Boardgames floor but didn’t find the Christmas games I was looking for. Apparently they don’t come out until late November. Still Twilight and New Moon games – yes Alex I bought one for you – and seriously gave myself a talking to about consumerism and the benefits of NOT spending $$$. The talk won and I walked free from both stores with only one tiny purchase.

I decided to walk home instead of taking the subway again. Searched through all the souvenir shops – Alex – once you email me a complete list, I will make your purchases and post it all to you. (The US Post Office is the next corner from the hotel – very convenient and open 24 hours) Still no luck with Thanksgiving supplies however one local New Yorker recommended that I visit 14th street tomorrow – some party supply store near Empire State building. I had lunch at 5pm at another Starbucks – Ginger Tea – ham and salad sandwich – and was introduced to the delights of NY theatre by another local I chatted with. This lady lived in jersey and was in town for the evening to see Steady Rain – an off broadway show starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. There are some great shows playing at the moment. I have decided to simply purchase the tickets each afternoon at the discounted rates. I don’t care what I see when and eventually over one month will surely get to see everything. 
Walking back from 45street – it took me no more than 15 minutes to reach 34th – home – this city has an incredible system – so easy to get around on foot. My temperature has been high all day – rain – jetlag –and every store is incredibly hot inside – so I found an Asian massage place down a dodgy looking alley. Cheap, safe, comfortable and perfect – just what I needed.

Tonight is the first Yankees game at the Bronx. I was offered tickets for $100.00 this afternoon and I turned them down as I wanted to watch GLEE on TV at 7pm. The joke is on me – GLEE has been replaced for the next 3 weeks with the Yankees games on FOX – so next time I will take the tickets and just go. This city seems to be a little nuts over their sport.

Looking back over the day, I did nothing of significance but had a great first day. I can see that it will take me a good week of daily 8 hours of walking to become orientated with just a few of the city areas that I am interested in.


I feel quite at home here already.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Safe and Sound

If this was 1909, I would be sailing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean right now on my nine month voyage to New York from Australia. Living in this age and with such incredible technology and convenience, my trip from Brisbane to New York was really very easy and comfortable. We flew out at 11.05am on 27th October. I was fortunate enough for Marie Rose to acquire Exit Row seats for the Brisbane to LA and LA to New York legs of the journey. As with everything in life there is a positive and a negative. Upon settling into my 58B seat in Brisbane I realized that being in the Exit Row meant there was nowhere for me to stow my “stuff” with me for 13 hours. Then a very large tall loud gruff man with a beard and long grey hair squeezed into the window seat beside me and began to cough all over me. Ugh – this will be one long flight.

Then the balance – seated next to the kitchen galley and the open space, many people stretched and exercised near the seats and there was many interesting chats and stories to be had. The staff were exceptional and the 58A coughing man turned out be to a Maths Professor at UQ – qualify – Pure Maths. We had the most amazing conversations as he travels the world researching indigenous peoples – the hunter gatherers – in order to discover how they relate to the “number”. Fascinating – I was educated to believe that indigenous peoples were uncivilized due to their so called lack of society structure. The professor reminded me that these peoples are so intrinsically connected to nature and its comprehensive structure that as we westerners seek to build a whole structure from the smallest of detail – and call that civilization – indigenous peoples already have a whole structure – called nature – that they know intimately – and they seek to break down this whole structure into the smallest of details. They don’t need to build anything as it is already there is their perspective.

Brilliant!

Sleeping easily in between meals and stories from strangers, LA appeared in the window before I knew it and so began the race hour. One hour to gather on board luggage, get through customs, find the luggage, transfer from Terminal 4 to Tom Bradley Terminal, re check in luggage and board the next plane bound for New York. Made it with time to spare!

Sitting in another Exit Row seat, I slept most of the way to New York, disembarking at JFK in amongst clouds of fog, finding the shuttle bus, listening to stories from more Aussie tourists and inching our way along the Queens tunnel until we reached 34 Street on the island of Manhattan. Feeling awake and happy to finally be here with such little fuss, check in was smooth, quick unpacking and before I knew it I was back on Eighth Avenue walking down towards Madison Square Garden – just across from the hotel, to a lovely steak dinner at Tir Na Nog – an Irish Bar and restaurant.
The New Yorker Hotel is situated in a convenient central location making it easy for me to plan my assault on this city.

Back in the hotel room, lights from the city streaming through my window, the sounds of taxis beeping, sirens raging and a light rain outside, the channel surfing through the American TV shows capped off a first day that was only complete with a Skype call with Manny and Sam. Having free Wi Fi broadband access in the room makes it easy for me to work for a couple of hours each day and gives me access to all the information I will need for this month in New York.

Sleep at midnight, waking only once and rising at 8.30am – I feel quite safe and comfortable.

Central Park

Central Park