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!

Central Park

Central Park