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TravelNew York Notes • Retrospect of NY 2010 • Wendy's New York Journal, March-April 2011 • New York Villanelle
New York Notes
A Midtown Pilgrimage
Wednesday 22nd April, 2009
The Streamline taxi collects us from Park Lane Mews at 07.20 for a 09.30 take off from Leeds-Bradford airport (LBA). Our taxi driver relates how the new management at LBA has raised the franchise fee from £100,000 to £120,000, now totalling £30.000 for three years. The new 'black' cab company paid £500,000, killing any opposition, he says.
At Schiphol airport (to avoid Heathrow) the management has changed the lounges, and moved the sushi bar. Our transatlantic flight to New York via Detroit, business class (at Wendy's insistence!), is okay but lengthy.
Detroit airport is enormous. Spring is later here than in the UK. Daffodils, which have bloomed and vanished at home, have yet to be in full blow here. Detroit airport has an impressive overhead railway which runs the length of our arrival hall.
The DC9 from Detroit into JFK is modern, but well-used. The flight was booked with KLM, but is operated by Northwest. In-flight safety announcements are unintelligible, the cabin crew mature and good-natured, but not engaged.
Our route takes us over Manhattan after dark, an unforgettable sight. One passenger (female, works for Schroder Finance) so inebriated that she can't disembark without official assistance.
The cab ride from JFK to 54th Street costs $45, plus $5 for baggage, plus tip. We arrive at the New York Hilton at 0100, exhausted, vowing never to take that route again.
I wonder how Tom cat is faring, taking his holiday at the cattery.
Thursday 23 April.
The breakfast queue ('line') in the HHonors room on the top floor is long, the room crowded, some of the clean plates not truly clean. This at 0915 am. We are in room 4010, with a view toward the Empire State building. Both of us feel tired. We plan a lazy day.
After breakfast we stroll up The Avenue of the Americas to 58th and into Central Park, thence to Columbus Circle. Visit the underground 'Wholefood Market', new to us. The vegetable stands have an integral mist spray. Upstairs in the Time-Warner building we chat to the salesman at Samsung. His Korean high definition TV is gives an excellent picture, and is slim. We eat at the downstairs sushi bar, then buy groceries.
Patelsons sheet music store at 160 W56th provides a shock: it's closing down! Wendy buys some double-bass music. Then to Carnegie Hall to collect tickets for the André Previn concert, then to the Disney shop on Park to buy postcards. While on Park we visit the Apple Cube.
Friday 24th April
Blue skies, good forecast. At breakfast we chat to a Broadway show buff. Never buy tickets in the hotel, he says. Recommends Wicked, a story about the Wizard of OZ before the Wizard of Oz.
From our room window we can see the GE building; it turns out to be the RCA building renamed as 30 Rock, home of NBC. We take the trip to the Top of the Rock, where we have a good view of midtown rooftops. The GE building has 70 storeys.
The four buildings around Rockefeller Plaza are identical, dedicated to European countries. For diplomacy, at the start of WWII the German tower was renamed 'International Building North'. The Chanin Building, across from the Chrysler building, on the corner of Lexington and 42nd, was built in 205 days!
A combined ticket (with Rockefeller) gives us admission to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), where we lunch. Diners sit at benches, à la Wagamama. MOMA has a gadget shop. A trendy folding bike is $800.
In the office building opposite our hotel room a meeting continues until 9:00 pm. On our TV the political programmes already convey an anti-Obama tone.
Saturday 25th April
After a 12-hour sleep, up at 0600. Breakfast (a high-class rip-off) in the Hilton hotel's 'New York Market Place', on the ground floor. Walk the Avenue of the Americas to Central Park, sit by the pond to watch sparrows, squirrels, robins and a woodpecker. Continue to the Loeb boathouse via Bethseda statue.
At the boathouse we go indoors for elevenses, and watch folk trying to row on the lake. Many dog owners, poodles, labradoodles. Walk as far as the Onassis reservoir, then quit at the Cooper-Hewitt exit on 92nd. Visit the Guggenheim on 88th. Here, the 10021 zip code is among the most affluent in the USA. The Guggenheim is being renovated; only two floors are open. Admission is reduced to $6:00.
Walk to 5th Avenue/59th Street and take a pedal taxi to Columbus Circle. The pedal taxi gives me the uncomfortable thought that I am 'using' the person who is cycling us. Sushi (again) at Time Warner centre; we sit next to a couple visiting from Marseilles. Take Line 1 subway from 50th and Broadway down to South Ferry, then on to a crowded Staten Island ferry, which is free. We catch the next ferry back. By cab back to the Hilton via Franklin Roosevelt Drive and 42nd St.
We pass the Chanin building, Grand Central and Bryant Park, thence up Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue). Supper is taken in the busy hotel bar, where a baseball match - Boston versus New York - is shown on giant screens.
Sunday 26th April
Breakfast in HHonors lounge is attended by many female joggers. Buy a Sunday Times, $4:00. The supplement has a huge photograph of Susan Boyle on the front page (Britain's Got Talent winner!). "Yes; looks do matter."
Mass and Breakfast reception at the Hilton for a NYPD section. Hundreds (probably thousands) of police march up to the hotel along the closed Avenue of the Americas. They are led by an Irish police band. Many of the police wear shiny patent leather boots. Saves polishing, I guess. The female officers look lumpy - perhaps they are wearing body armour.
We walk down to 43rd St., and on to Grand Central Terminus. Not 'station', as it's the end of the line. At Grand Central we discover the shopping concourse beneath the entrance hall. Here is a café area fitted imaginatively in the style of a railway carriage. The station was rebuilt in 1913, in keeping with the style of the Waldorf Astoria and the Chrysler Building.
Exit onto 42nd St and walk to Bryant Park, refurbished since it was the haunt of low-life types in the 1960s and 1970s. On the Avenue of the Americas we buy two pastrami sandwiches to go. Enormous, they are NOT fine dining. At 11:16 am on the display-thermometer the temperature is at 80F.
Walk to Carnegie Hall circa 1:20 pm. An exhibition in an upstairs room contains Benny Goodman's clarinet (with teeth marks!), score pages by Duke Ellington and Aaron Copland, and fragments of scores by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. A recording of the New Orleans Footwarmers' version of Sister Kate is playing. Several superb photos include one where a Handel chorus is being sung by Mstislav Rostropovitch, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, etc.
We have a box (shared) on the second tier. The box floor slopes forward, with seat legs cut to match the floor incline. The hall is around 85% full; the concert begins ten minutes late. André Previn's 'The Giraffes go to Hamburg' opens. An alto flute is used, akin to the clarinet in Schubert's 'Shepherd on the Rock'. Previn has difficulty walking, but his pianism is still magical. Renée Fleming is superb.
André Previn climbs shakily onto the podium when it is time for him to conduct his own Violin Concerto, which we've heard before in the Royal Albert Hall. An attendant stands by should help be needed. The playing of the Orchestra of St. Lukes is tidy and competent. Previn's stick technique is clear, as ever. Anne-Sophie Mutter looks gorgeous, and sounds sublime. She is touchy and affectionate with Previn, and gives him a kiss. At one point she pinches his cheek affectionately. We speak to a couple of NY women (subscribers) who say that Carnegie Hall attendance has been noticeably down this season.
For supper we dine in our room, on sandwiches and fruit from Starbucks on Avenue of the Americas, which is noticeably better than any British branch of Starbucks we've experienced. A lazy evening, the only action is to phone the bell captain to arrange for the storage of our luggage while we are in Poughkeepsie.
Monday 27 April.
Settle the Hilton bill, then take a cab to Grand Central, leaving much of our luggage in the hotel luggage store. Receive the 'senior rate' on the Metro North Railroad to Pokipse, this being the railway shorthand for Poughkeepsie. The train stops at Harlem 125th Street, then at Garrison, Cold Spring, Beacon, New Hamburg and Poughkeepsie.
The track follows the Hudson river shore, which is covered in vineyards eventually, a surprise. At Manhattan the Hudson is narrow, but widens as we travel upstream. Using a diesel unit, with no refreshment provision, our train departs NY at 10:45, arrives PK at 12:39. At PK we take a cab to Hyde Park, where we have booked at the Golden Manor Motel.
The Korean owner, Francis, chats about the Cheonggye stream, which runs through the heart of Seoul. I was in Seoul on the day in 2005 when the stream was open to the skies, and the citizens were celebrating. Strange to be chatting about Korea while here in the Hudson Valley. Francis runs a clean but spartan motel. There is no dining room, so we walk down the road (no pavement) to the Ever Ready diner, a stainless-steel art-deco roadhouse. After enormous omelettes (cheap) we walk along the grass verge to the home of Franklin D Roosevelt, opposite the Golden Manor.
The FDR place is a delight. Roosevelt died on April 13th 1945. He was buried here on April 15th 1945, the day before the birth of my sister Madeline - a day that I remember vividly, so not that long ago. A photograph of FDR taken the day before he died shows him looking haggard, at age 63. FDR owned a Ford Phaeton, which is on display. The Ford's hand controls include a dispenser for lighted cigarettes.
We spend four hours at the FDR house, then decide to revisit tomorrow, but also decide to cut short our stay in Hyde Park. There is little else to see or do unless one has a car to explore the area. After we have wandered across fields and verges we read that the area has poisonous snakes, and ticks with Lyme disease.
Another snack at the Ever-Ready, where an apple turnover has green mould inside. The waiter gives us 10% off the bill.
"... Eight by ten four-berth room.
No phone no pool no pets..."
This old song comes to Wendy as she is showering, and sums up the delights of the Golden Manor, which is clean but basic. However, the Korean owners are charming. The wife has studied in Germany and is able auf Deutsch zu sprechen, aber nur ein bisschen.
Tuesday 28th April
Toothache, which began at the weekend, continues. I resolve to cut down on fruit, fruit juices and sugar-loaded drinks. I can't face the prospect of American dental treatment or American medical costs. (Eventually I needed root canal treatment). Awake at 05:30 am.
The Roosevelt family story has impressed both of us. Recordings of Eleanor speaking reveal her to have spoken with upper-class English dipthongs, as in 'orff' for 'off'. Where did that accent arise? We return to the FDR library building. On the way two groundhogs are seen scuttling around beneath the trees. (The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae (scurids), belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.) Groundhog Day is 2nd February, John's birthday.
The FDR exhibition is to be recommended. The contribution of Eleanor Roosevelt - a lovely lady, well-educated and clearly charming - was considerable. We discover that Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother visited here before WWII. We return to the Golden Manor at lunchtime, check out and receive (unrequested) a cash refund.
The cab into Poughkeepsie is driven by a man from southern Mexico. He tells us that some PK residents commute to Manhattan daily, a two-hour journey. The riverside rail track to Manhattan is pleasant until one reaches Yonkers, the Bronx and Harlem, where the line goes underground.
For supper we visit the Waldorf Astoria to dine in Peacock Alley. A young pianist plays an out-of-tune Baldwin grand, reading from lead sheets and playing as though no-one is listening. The food is good, but pricey. The coffee shop downstairs by the Lenox Avenue entrance, which we've appreciated during previous visits, is closed during the evening. Is this an effect of the recession?
Wednesday 29th April.
Toothache is murder. I phone my dentist in Roundhay to arrange a dental appointment. Also receive advice about appropriate pain killers.
In the 44th floor HHonors lounge we share a breakfast table with a couple from Zurich. He has excellent English, she speaks only German and Italian. Noticeable that the political world-view of Europeans is so much better informed than that of most (but not all) of the Americans we meet.
By cab to Battery Park, then on to the Ellis Island ferry. The exhibitions on the island are moving and informative. Today is Barack Obama's 100th day in office. The US media make much of 100 days, comparing Obama's with the 100 days of FDR back in March 1933. Our visit to the FDR house yesterday was therefore timely. On the second day of FDR's presidency he closed all the banks in the USA for four days. Our current problems aren't that bad.
Thursday 30th April 2009.
We have tickets for a New York Philharmonic morning rehearsal, to be collected at 09:15, take seats at 09:45. We walk to the Lincoln Center; the rehearsal is at Avery Fisher Hall.
On the way we speak to a NY city resident walking her poodle. More accurately, she is attending her poodle, who stands with dignity and motionless on the 7th Avenue sidewalk. At Columbus Circle a man holding handbills steps forward and hands us one, a printed poem, Here's to the Mice, by Vachel Lindsay. Today is national Poem In Your Pocket Day. 'Select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 30, 2009'. www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/406
A capacity audience (at 09:45 on a Thursday!) gathers at Avery Fisher hall. Predominantly older, and female, some had travelled a distance. Wendy spoke to a woman who had caught a bus in Pennsylvania to make a journey of two hours.
The orchestra members wear street clothes. There are no announcements save for an opening list of restrictions: don't talk; don't walk about; don't use cellphones, etc. Some folk disregard these later.
The conductor is the recently-appointed Alan Gilbert. Little actual rehearsal takes place. The activity is really a run-through. Dvorak opus 109 is first (Golden Spinning Wheel), then the Fourth Symphony of Bohuslav Martinû. The latter is new to both of us, though I have played other works of Martinû. The Fourth symphony contains fascinating passages of dissonances and intriguing harmony - but the composer seems to lose his nerve in the matter of resolving tension.
Finally Joshua Bell emerges, wearing a brown T shirt and blue jeans. He gives a nod of acknowledgement to the audience and begins the Saint-Saens fiddle concerto, Opus 61 in B minor, 1880.
Bell's violin tone is big and beautiful, his memory and technical command flawless. The concerto is a poor thing, though, with a second movement that has the quality of a nursery song. How it has endured for a century-and-a-quarter is puzzling.
Avery Fisher hall is in need of a spruce-up.; The toilet facilities are inadequate, with only five stalls for the ladies on the LH lower level. Toilets here still have paper towels, taps and soap dispensers, whereas 'no hands' automation is widespread in other buildings, for instance in the Time-Warner building at Columbus Circle, where the toilets have Dyson hand dryers of excellent design.
On to the Natural History Museum at Central Park West and 77th. Our visit is a quest to discover more about the ground hog. On that account we fail; no ground hog. But we eat in the canteen, see an enormous dinosaur skeleton, and inspect all sorts of stuffed fauna, from skunk and cottontails to elk and moose. Ride a cab back to the hotel. The cabbie had served in the US forces at Lakenheath in Suffolk. We speak of bonnets/hoods, boots/trunks and line/queue. Apparently a queue is NOT an obscene word in America, contrary to what a colleague once told me.
Later we dine at RIMI, on 53rd, adjacent to the hotel. Good service and ambience. We both choose canneloni, served in a cream sauce so rich that much of it goes uneaten. Tonight I receive (by email) a couple of writing commissions from Classical Music magazine. Isn't technology great?
Late-night shopping (open until 8pm) at Saks Fifth Avenue, which is at 611 5th Avenue, opposite the Rockefeller Center. I buy a couple of pairs of long socks. Wendy accepts a demonstration application of wrinkle remover, which she doesn't buy. The salesman sulks.
Friday May 1st, 2009.
Zhang Jiemin sends an email from Venice, where she is conducting Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat at Theatre La Fenice. 'Would we like to go?' she asks. Out of the question, unfortunately. However, she may return to Shanghai by way of London, so we'll perhaps see her. Her big news is that her best friend is to marry Julian Lloyd Webber.
After breakfast I phone Loren Schoenberg at the Harlem Jazz Museum to arrange to visit him on Monday. He agrees to do an interview with me for Jazz Journal magazine.
We walk from the hotel to the Central Park Zoo. We spend the morning there, hoping to see a ground hog. On the way, at 59th Street by the Plaza hotel, we see 17 NYPD cars waiting in a line. Why, we have no idea.
The zoo has few visitors. We are met by a female volunteer, who escorts us around the ground floor, first section, of the zoo. She is articulate and knowledgeable on a range of birds, snakes, tortoises and lizards. We see polar bears, snow monkeys from Japan, a pair of caymen, boas and red pandas. An excellent collection, but no groundhogs.
Out onto 5th Ave/Museum Mile, and up to E70th to see the art collection of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, exhibited in his opulent mansion. No daubs or duds, the Frick is a truly elegant collection housed with sensitivity. Admission costs $15:00. Then we walk across the park to drink tea at the boating lake. Back to the hotel by cab, the driver a young Chinese man, from Guangzhou in the Pearl Delta. He's saving for more world travel. I over-tip him, as a contribution to his travel fund. He comes round to open the passenger door - an act rarely experienced here, being a true Manhattan 'first' for me.
After rest and recuperation we walk to Columbus Circle to buy supper at a Swedish café, the AQ, where we dine on meatballs, mashed potato, cucumber and red berries, a delicious change. Strangely, all of the customers are women. Rain falls in the evening, but no matter.
Saturday May 2nd, 2009.
In the morning we walk down a quiet 6th Avenue/Avenue of the Americas as far as JJ Hats, near to 32nd St., by far the best hat shop in the world, in my experience. I'm hunting for a Borsalino to take over (not replace) my 25 year-old felt trilby. An exact match is impossible. Specifications have changed. I buy a COMO model, size 7 3/8 (UK), in fur felt, with tapered crown, pinched at the front, whip stitching along the edge of the 2 1/2" brim, colour taupe. Price is $365, but if it lasts in good condition as long as my brown Borsalino trilby, it'll be money well spent.
The sales clerk uses a steaming machine to reshape the crown of my old trilby, which he does excellently. A hat box is provided in which to carry my new purchase. www.jjhatcenter.com
Snack at a Korean deli across the Avenue from JJ hats. The deli owner and his wife are from Seoul. Once again, the Cheonggye river proves to be a conversation topic!
Next visit is to the Morgan Library and Museum, at 225 Madison, not far from JJ, which turns out to be a good discovery. Pierpont (-pont, NOT -point!) Morgan was a 'financier' (i.e., a robber baron) who made his money in General Electric (GE) and US Steel. He was the most powerful banker in the world. His son, JP Morgan, was described as 'the sultan of a secret seraglio'.
The museum was extended in 2006 by Renzo Piano. Too much to see on one visit. Here are manuscripts of TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, William Blake, and scores by Samuel Barber, Mozart, Brahms, etc.
One poetry fragment reads (in part):
'He took him swiftly by the pants
And buggered him on the altar;
And the mate said (with a knowing look)
"I've seen that done in Malta".'
Lunch in the café, then return via Times Square, where we purchase tickets for Blithe Spirit (Noel Coward), starring Angela Lansbury. Broadway is about to be pedestrianised; the first indications of this are in place.
Sunday May 3rd, 2009
On the street at 0830 to see the procession of more than 30,000 cyclists on the Five Boroughs Cycle Ride. One of Wendy's colleagues at Harrogate Hospital, Margaret Wildridge, is participating. Riders begin at Battery Park, then ride up 6th Avenue to the Park. Police have closed the Avenue. The event is not a race, more a fun run. Cyclists are passing already in ones and twos, as though they can choose when and where to start. Escort vehicles come up the empty Avenue, followed by cyclists in vast numbers. A shiny steel manhole cover at the intersection of 6th and 54th causes several riders to fall from their machines. Bikes of all types are seen: tandems, Moultons, three-rider machines, prone-riders, trailer cars containing children or dogs, etc. The procession lasts until 11:00 am. We don't spot Margaret.
By then we have walked to MOMA at 11 E53rd, which is 100 metres from the hotel. Admission is $16:00 senior, $20:00 adults. As hordes of people are entering the Museum, we go straight to terrace level (floor 5) to take an early lunch. The price $70:32, service with a smile. The visitors include a high proportion of Europeans, French and German particularly, skewed to the students' and younger workers' end of the age range, with relatively few retirees. The place is crowded. Photography is permitted; strange to see visitors posing in front of a Jackson Pollock or a Mark Rothko. Early twentieth-century Russian art displays the same influences and ideas that worked on Picasso, Matisse, and others.
The museum shop is on the ground floor, can be entered from the street without buying admission into the museum proper, and is well-stocked. I buy a 'magic' business-card holder (made in China) for $15:00. Wendy buys various gifts for young relatives, and a multi-coloured electrical adaptor for us. Posting cards to friends across the world, ALL cards (whether to Japan, Australia or Spain) share the same overseas rate of 94 cents. "It's all the same, abroad."
The NY Sunday Times contains much pro-Democratic comment (though VP Joe Biden occasionally acts foolishly). The Times costs $4:00 here, but $5:00 beyond the NY metropolitan area. Is that how newspaper costs will go in the UK? Probably. Two days later the NY TV news announced that the out-of-town price of the Sunday Times will rise to $6:00.
Monday 4th May, 2009.
We take a walk in the rain, heading towards upper midtown and the Roosevelt Island cable-car station at E60th and 2nd Ave. The cable-car ride costs $2:00 each way. The Island is enjoying a renaissance, but is not particularly exciting. Back at 2nd Ave we walk to 200 E66th and 3rd, which is the apartment block where Grace Kelly, architect Gordon Bunshaft and the great jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman each owned apartments. Then on to Eleanor Roosevelt's house at 47 E65th street. Her house is undergoing renovation, so no go.
In the late afternoon we take a taxi to Harlem, via Central Park to the Lennox Avenue exit. Lennox Avenue is also called Malcolm X Boulevard, a name which is on the street name plates, but we never hear used. We alight at 125th St and find the restaurant Chez Lucienne (308 Lennox).
We are early, so we walk a couple of blocks. A white European would have been foolish to do this thirty years ago. The Apollo Theater is nearby, as is the Victoria. Loren arrives at Chez Lucienne. Food is good, service attentive. Our African-American waitress speaks fluent French. Loren tell us that the current plans for his Harlem Jazz Museum include use of The Mart, nearby.
After supper we move on to 104E126th St, being the offices of the National Jazz Museum. Tonight's talk is to be given by Carole Friedman, photographer, who has produced pictures for several books and album covers. Tonight she is to be interviewed by Loren, and will present excerpts from a documentary film she is completing about the singer, Abby Lincoln.
The audience is small but select. Saxophonist Jimmy Heath attends, with his wife. The gracious Jean Bach, maker of the film A Great Day in Harlem, appears. She is now 90 years old. Although Jean Bach walks with a wheeled zimmer frame (a rollator), she is alert and articulate, and beautifully dressed and groomed. We chat to Loren's Administrative Assistant, Joan Lapp, who recalls spending time in the UK, at Whitley Bay.
Carole Friedman is still seeking funds to complete her movie. She needs $20,000. http://www.jazzmuseuminharlem.org/index.php
Tuesday 5th May, 2009.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in Museum Mile at E82nd St., the Museum is crowded, partly due to the rain but mainly because the collection is fabulous. The musical instruments include ethnic ones (the collection of Mrs John Crosby Brown) and some great woodwind examples. Here are Adolphe Sax originals, a swarm of bass clarinets (some carved from the solid), Oehler systems, clarinets in ivory, metal, etc., and another of Benny Goodman's own instruments.
We concentrate on twentieth-century art. The impressionist collection is vast, and includes Sisley, Monet, Manet, Degas, Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon - everything you'd expect, and more. The sculptures include many by Rodin and Degas. The Museum is bewilderingly large. Several school parties are touring. At lunch we share a table with a couple from Mainz. The husband has no English.
Evening at the Shubert Theater, at Broadway and 44th. Ten blocks make a twelve-minute walk. The theatre holds 1500 people; there are 800 here tonight. We sit upstairs on the front row. The play is Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, which we've seen several times, so it's a safe choice. At $60 a ticket we don't care to experiment. The audience is responsive and appreciative, though they talk through any music, of course.
English accents offer no problems to the actors and actresses. The star playing Madame Arcati is Angela Lansbury, born in 1925 and showing no signs of deterioration. Blithe Spirit was written in 1941.
Wednesday May 6th, 2009.
To the puzzlement of one of our Manhattan friends ("Why do you want to go there?") we set off for Coney Island and Brighton Beach, taking the Q line from 57th Street. The journey is a bargain: $2:00 each way for a 50 minute journey. The line crosses the Hudson, but we spend much of the rest of the journey underground.
Brighton Beach station is only 200 metres or so from the boardwalk and the beach. Known also as 'Little Russia', Russian is spoken on the street, shop signs and adverts are in Russian, and people sit on the beach listening to Russian radio stations. The boardwalk is about 30 metres wide. It continues for miles alongside a sandy beach.
Midway between Brighton Beach and Coney Island is the Aquarium, where we stop for a sandwich lunch. My enquiry about 'luncheon' is heard as 'lotion', with hilarious confusion.
In the Aquarium we learn that the Romans used electric fish as defibrilators. The three turtles here are enormous.
Back in Manhattan we call into Carnegie Hall to see if we can buy tickets for tonight's concert in the Weill Recital Hall. No luck. We revisit the Rose Museum, opened in 1991 as part of Carnegie Hall's 100th anniversary celebration, and look again at Benny Goodman's Buffet clarinet, at the score of Copland's Third Symphony, and at various Duke Ellington sketches from the 1967 Sacred Concert: 'Something 'Bout Believing.' On leaving and walking down 57th Street, a group of people chatting on the pavement includes the conductor Pierre Boulez. As he's scheduled to appear here this evening, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
Go via 57th Street to view the building where Bela Bartok lived in 1945, at 309 W 57th. A plaque is fixed to the wall, and a bas-relief. In Borders' store I buy the new biography of William Schuman, erstwhile chairman of Juilliard, and the man who presided over the completion of the Lincoln Center. Initially (1961) the acoustics were a disaster. Schuman is said to have disliked Boulez, disapproved of twelve-tone music, and hated jazz. He died in 1982. Later I receive a commission from Classical Music magazine to review the Schuman book.
Thursday May 7th, 2009
The plan is to meet our friend the singer Daryl Sherman for lunch. After a game of telephone tag with Daryl we agree to have lunch in the restaurant of Saks Fifth Avenue at 611 5th, opposite the Rockefeller at 50th. When we arrive, the maitre D in the eighth floor restaurant tells us that Daryl has made a reservation, a window table with a view down the Avenue.
Good to catch up with Daryl, who is looking well. She gives us a copy of her new CD, and an update of her trials and tribulations with the Waldorf Astoria, her agent in England, and her gig at the Algonquin. Food is okay, the service attentive, the price excessive. Do they rely on Saks appeal?
Spend time (and 27 dollars!) negotiating the online check-in for the return flight tomorrow. That small blow is cushioned by an emailed commission from Jazz Journal, to review Graham Collier's new book.
Friday May 8th 2009.
The hotel bill is pushed under the door. The amount is approximately what was expected. After breakfast we walk to Rockefeller Plaza, where I have my shoes shined. Five chairs are available in the parlour where shines are $2:50. Waiting customers queue. Each shoe shine takes 10-12 minutes. A brilliant job ensures that the brown brogues have never looked better. Well worth a $2:00 tip, which is what most people give.
Our cabbie to JFK is another Korean from Seoul. He is chatty, and a smooth driver, which earns him a $10 tip.
The plane on the KLM-booked flight from JFK is a North Western 757, though the business-class seating is inferior to that of the Malaysian Airways plane (another KLM partner) that took us to Australia last year. One of the NW flight attendants is barely competent. As she brings the wrong food she allows her trolley to career around the cabin, spilling cutlery and food. She has difficulty in reading aloud from her script. How she would cope in an emergency, I can't imagine.
The toothache continues. Oh, the glamour of it all.
Retrospect of NY 2010
Having completed the New York Diary for 2011 (which is after the following), I now regret not writing one in 2010. The year 2010 was special for us, as we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, my 60th birthday and my retirement. We visited some places we had never been before and therefore it seems worth recording. My account is in the form of retrospective notes.
We set off for NY during the second week of June, later than in the previous year. This was because I could not take any more holiday until my retirement at the end of May, and then John had his external examiner rôle in St Andrew's at the beginning of June.
We learnt from previous experience, and flew direct to NY from Amsterdam. As a special treat we stayed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Columbus Circle, for the first four nights. We had a park view room with a splendid outlook along 59th St. and onto Central Park, a great place to sit and watch the world go by. The bathroom was enormous, with a separate shower and wc. Staff in the hotel were friendly and helpful but did not make you feel ill-at-ease. We took breakfast in the main restaurant, which had huge windows overlooking Central Park. The food was excellent, offering anything you wanted: fresh berries, choice of cereals, proper toast, a single freshly boiled egg, or a full English. Early one morning we were walking in Central Park when we came across a woman with binoculars who invited us to look into one of the tall trees. You could see a racoon in the branches quite clearly. Apparently there are a lot of these living in the park, but many carry rabies.
All too soon we had to check out of the Mandarin Oriental. It was a wrench to leave this lovely hotel.The Hilton was our stopover before setting off to the Hudson Valley. The Hilton also provided storage for our large cases while we were out of town. From Grand Central Station we took the Hudson Line to Tarrytown. The train passed under Central Park and emerged above ground around 125th St. The journey to Tarrytown took only 50 minutes, where we collected a hire car from Enterprise. The car was a light blue Chrysler Cruiser automatic, which came complete with dog hair and sticky door handles. John managed to find the way to the Hilton DoubleTree hotel, which looked motel-like. But the room was clean, quiet and comfortable. The restaurant appeared rather grand for the hotel. However, the food was good, service pleasant.
Right next to the hotel was Lyndhurst, one of the many beautiful mansions in the surrounding area, the house originally built for William Paulding, a former mayor of New York City. On the advice of a member of hotel staff, we decided to walk there. No mean feat, as it had a long drive. The house was a Gothic Revival Mansion in enormous grounds, with a view of the Hudson River. There was only one other couple on the house tour. The grounds were quiet. The stables and carriage house were taken over by preparations for a function, and a large marquee was being erected. The walk back to the hotel was hot and tiring, but it had been worth the effort.
The following day, we decided to visit Philipsburg Manor and Kykuit. The Manor was not well signed. We drove past it twice. In fact, it was on the edge of Tarrytown. Philipsburg Manor was one of the largest slave plantations in the North during the 17th and 18th centuries. The manor house, which dates back to 1685, was owned by a Dutchman, Frederick Philipse. The estate still functions as a working farm, with a working flour mill. We saw a demonstration of the grinding, with two different grains being used. Staff working around the estate were dressed in period costume, mainly for the benefit of school parties, I suspect.
After lunch, we joined one of the bus tours to Kykiut, the Rockefeller Estate, set high above the Hudson River, with a fountain and landscaped gardens to the front. The house is not particularly spectacular, but is used to display art works by Picasso, Henry Moore, and Constantin Brancusi, among others. The grounds make a series of different gardens, with ponds and a tea house. The terrace has views of the river and is used to display sculptures to advantage. This was a tour worth taking.
The next morning, time to move base to the Poughkeepsie Grand, our hotel for the next three nights. It was not grand, more like a poor 1960s Holiday Inn. The room was OK, with a view towards the Hudson River. But the food was burger in type, and not particularly good. We took a walk around the town to get our bearings, a depressing experience. Many premises were closed or boarded up. A lot of the shop doorways had signs saying 'No Loitering'. Poughkeepsie had the feel of somewhere that had seen better days. There were occasional examples of shops trying to make a go of it, but there seemed to be little money about. However, this was to be a base for visiting some of the other mansions. There was little choice of places to stay in the area.
We drove to the Vanderbilt Mansion, outside Poughkeepsie, a 54-room country palace built in 1898. Our guide for the tour of the house was a female ranger with a loud and penetrating voice. But she gave a clear and light-hearted account of the house and its occupants. The house was grand and lavishly decorated, the grounds extensive, and once again on the edge of the Hudson River. Those wealthy New Yorkers of the gilded age knew where to live.
The Franklin D Roosevelt Museum was close to the Vanderbilt Mansion, so we paid that a brief second visit. We didn't stay long because we wanted to see Eleanor Roosevelt's cottage, Val-Kill. This was the only home she ever owned. She used the grounds for the headquarters of Val-Kill Industries, which taught crafts to rural workers who then went on to produce Colonial Revival furniture. Val-Kill cottage was simple and homely. There was real peace about the place. We sat in the garden watching chipmunks for about half an hour. All the staff had gone home and we were the last people on the site.
John had long wanted to visit Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. So the following morning we set out to find it. The aerodrome was hidden in the trees, about two miles from Rhinebeck town. To our surprise, it was uneven farmland. There was no tarmac runway, only roughly mown grass. While waiting for the flying to start we looked at the displays of old vehicles. We noticed a model T Ford looking tatty in a corrugated iron shelter. We thought it didn't look used, so were shocked to see a young man, dressed in twenties-style braces and cap, get into the car and start it first try. He then drove round the airfield with several other old vehicles. There were army vehicles, farm vehicles, cars and motorbikes in sheds all round the site. It was obvious that there was much restoration work to be done. On display was a great range of aircraft, many in flying order. Two of the aircraft were used to give flights to members of the public. I was too nervous to try it and John didn't want to go on his own. We saw three young men using an aircraft engine with propeller, to pull a chassis across the airfield. The contraption looked most unsafe and they treated it with a degree of abandon. There were several hangars full of planes, which we also visited. It was a hot day and we were tired, so the last exhibits got short shrift.
Saturday night in the hotel was noisy. There was a wedding and a number of guests got rather drunk. We were woken in the small hours by a noisy guest being escorted to his room by one of the hotel staff. At that point we wondered what on earth we were doing there.
In the morning we took a walk along the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge. This opened to rail traffic in 1888, but stopped being used for trains in the 1970s. It has been converted to a pedestrian walkway and was reopened in 2009. One the morning we used it, there were lots of walkers and joggers around. We only walked half way across because we still had the return walk to make, and the day was working up to be hot.
We had read about the modern art gallery called Dia:Beacon which was sited in an old Nabisco box-printing factory on the banks of the Hudson. The gallery proved difficult to find. We drove round the town at least twice and eventually found it tucked away beside the river. The building and the setting were attractive but, as is too often the case, the contents were disappointing. Some of the ideas were clever, but most were poorly thought out and executed. We witnessed two grown men fighting in the back streets of Beacon. Not edifying.
Our last outing in this mid-Hudson area was to Locust Grove, home of Samuel Morse, inventor of the electric telegraph and Morse code.
We were the only visitors to this idyllic spot. After a tour of the house, we sat in the garden watching birds. Then we looked round the museum of Morse's inventions. This was a man who changed communications for ever, yet nobody seemed interested in visiting his home.
Food was difficult on this part of the trip. Mostly we ate in chain restaurants located in shopping malls. Typically, the food was fried and covered in sweet sauce. On Sunday evening we ate at a local Italian restaurant, which wasn't to our taste. Portions were enormous, the food too creamy. No wonder many Americans are overweight.
Back in Manhattan, we returned to the Hilton on 54th St. We were to be there for more than a week, so we took a mini-suite. This provided a separate seating and sleeping area. We both had a proper chair to sit in.
June is not a good time of year for music in Manhattan. We had only been able to book one concert, Joao Gilberto, at Carnegie Hall. The day before the concert, he cancelled! We think it was due to some problem travelling to the USA - but he does have a reputation for cancelling at the last minute. At least the cost of the tickets was refunded.
As part of a series of summer music, our friend Daryl Sherman was playing in Bryant Park. We went along to hear her play (on a green piano) and sing. She was very good, as usual, and the audience large. We also met our eminent friend Dan Morgenstern. The Park had a lovely holiday feel. Bryant Park has certainly changed from a few years ago. Then, it was a venue for winos. On this trip to NY we determined to do a few things we had never done before. One morning we got up early, took a cab to Brooklyn, Old Foulton St, and walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.
The walk was fascinating. We were on a different level from the cars, so avoided the noise and smell of traffic. The view up and down the East River was clear. That morning there were lots of pleasure walkers and joggers, but there were also people in their office clothes, walking to work.
John had always wanted to be in the audience for one of the big NY TV chat shows. Before we left home he applied for tickets to the David Letterman Show. We were told to arrive at the theatre on Broadway the day before the recording. After waiting in a long queue, we were interviewed and given tickets and instructions for the following day. The day of recording involved yet another queue. We were given final instructions and sent away for an hour. Eventually we queued for a final time to be admitted to the theatre. We were seated downstairs, about half way back in the auditorium. The show was recorded live. Nothing was repeated but there were breaks for changes of scene. During these, Letterman told stories or jokes. It was a typical television recording, but slickly done by an experienced team. As we left the auditorium, the audience for the next show was waiting outside.
On our first trip to Manhattan in 1980, we visited the Intrepid aircraft carrier. Since then she has been refurbished, with more aircraft added to the display. We decided to have another look. The carrier is moored on the West Side, where the transatlantic liners berthed, and where West Side Story was set. There was a good display of aircraft, mostly American. The day was hot. Even with the breeze on deck, we were relieved to retire to the air conditioning below. Films of the navy's role in WW11, complete with loud explosions, were being shown to schoolchildren. I don't think they believed battle was real. They thought it was a movie.
Although we had visited the Metropolitan Museum several times before, we had never managed to see the Egyptian exhibition because it was always busy. This time we went early and made a point of visiting that section only. The Temple of Dendur was enormous and awe-inspiring, surrounded by a moat. The temple was a gift to the people of America in return for their help in building the Aswan Dam. There was a number of peripheral exhibitions of Egyptian art. Some of the sculpture and pottery looked modern in its style and execution.
Another first was a visit to Mount Vernon Hotel on 1st Avenue and E 61st St. This old house started as a farm, well away from developed Manhattan. The farm changed its use, became a sort of pub, then a hotel. The building is furnished appropriately for the period, with a number of old maps of the NY area, showing how the city grew over a short time.
We were the only visitors on our tour of the house. This historic site is far enough away from most tourist centres to be little visited. The terrace at the back of the house is a haven of peace. We sat there for a while, hardly believing that the busy city was on the other side of the wall.
One sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to explore the Upper West Side. We walked west along W66th St., past where Benny Goodman once lived, and then along Riverside Boulevard. There we sat to watch children playing and families promenading. We felt like New Yorkers for a while. This is a prosperous residential area. Most people were well-dressed.
I particularly wanted to visit the New York Historical Society, hosting an exhibition of the original Audubon bird paintings. Unfortunately, most of the premises were closed for refurbishment, the only part open was offering an exhibition of a rock musician. So that was a disappointment.
Late afternoon one day, we were walking along the east side of Central Park when we noticed the National Academy was still open. We had never looked in there, so we decided to see what was on view. It was mainly an exhibition of student work which varied in quality. Some was excellent. One particular student had mastered the art of making clay to look like bronze. Not surprisingly, their work commanded a high price.
We had always wanted to have lunch in the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. Although we had made a booking we still had to wait for our table. We were seated in the second bank of tables away from the lakeside, but had a good view of the boats. The day was hot. It was a relief to be in the shade. The restaurant was busy and noisy, the service rather slow. Food was good, but nothing special. We were pleased to satisfy our curiosity about the place.
For our homeward journey to Leeds, we made our return transfer to JFK by limousine, courtesy of the 777 Company, http://www.dial7.com
The ride was an improvement on a Yellow Taxi, but not a lot!
Wendy’s New York Journal, March-April 2011
Took off from LBA on time and in hazy weather. Had a smooth flight to Amsterdam. A short break in KLM lounge before heading for the departure gate for the onward flight to NY. Lucky enough to have paid for business class, so we have good seats downstairs at the front. The flight started well, but after app. three hours we encountered serious turbulence. This lasted 20 minutes or more and very uncomfortable. The pilot changed course and avoided further trouble until going down the coast of northern USA. Further slight turbulence. Arrived in NY JFK at 2:45 pm. Long queues at immigration. We arrived just after a flight from India. Progress was very slow. We got through and picked up bags by 4:45 pm.
Arrived in hotel around 5:30 pm. Went to bed early, as we were both worn out. Our room is on the executive floor this time, a short walk along the corridor to the lounge.
After a good sleep, woke early - 5.50 am. Took time to get going, but decided to walk the High Line. Caught a cab to 18th St. and 11th Ave. Terribly erratic cab driver, both glad to get out. Saw Frank Gehry building for Interactive Corp World HQ, the only completed Gehry building in New York. In white, with curved glass, looks a bit like a sailing ship. Accessed High Line up a stairway on 18th St. Very impressive walkway on old raised rail track. Volunteers have planted and tended this. The old rails are still visible in places. Art and photography students are up here to record new and appropriate items. The photo students are all taking pictures of each other! No imagination.
We walked from 18th St to 14th St and back, then sat and enjoyed the view. Section beyond 18th is still closed, but looks ready to be opened. A great project, it provides a little quiet green space in Manhattan. Down the stairs onto 18th St. Walked a zigzag path for a few blocks. John asked a female guard on 21st St where we could get a coffee. She directed us a block away. Turned into 9th Ave. and saw a cafe/restaurant on the corner. Another guard outside recommended the food and took us in. Instant iced water. John had coffee, I chose a smoothie. He had tiramisu and I had a Danish. Never seen a Danish this big, but it was good.
Continued walking up to Macy’s. Went in, attracted by advertised flower show. Some flowers were real, others not. John managed to find some long brown socks (rare in the UK). Proved more difficult to find the pay counter. Noticed Herald and Greeley squares outside Macy’s. Herald named after NY Herald newspaper, Greeley after Tribune editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872). Walked back past Bryant Park. Noticed daffodils coming into bloom. Lucky to have enjoyed a beautiful sunny morning. John stopped at Rockefeller Center for shoeshine. I returned to Hilton alone. Sat and read Blue Guide until John’s return. What a surprise - a bunch of a dozen red roses. Then I had to find a vase (pronounced ‘vayse‘ here). Nothing from the room maids, but John got one from customer services. Trimmed the rose stems and put them in water They look lovely, and make the room feel more like home. Lunch from Starbucks, okay. Then a lazy afternoon, reading Alice.
7.30 pm we walked to Columbus Circle. Passed filming on 54th St., which is commonplace here. Ate sushi in Time Warner Center. Then I browsed Dali copies and John went into Borders, exited with New Yorker mag. Walked back to Hilton. Another early night.
31st March, 2011.
Awake 6.10AM. It’s raining outside, and cooler, with a possibility of snow later. After breakfast in the executive lounge we decide to go to the Morgan Library and JJ Hats. We stop at Rockefeller Center for John to get a shine on another pair of shoes. I sit and watch. Very impressed by the technique and time taken by the workers, who do a beautiful job. Then I tempt John to look in Andrew’s Tie Shop. He buys two knitted ties, just what he has been looking for.
Kind young woman directs us to Cucina coffee bar. An Australian employee (from Sydney) helps us with serve-yourself coffee. We drink and watch as skaters emerge onto the Rockefeller ice rink.
Ability on skates very varied. Time to walk down to 37th and Madison (Morgan Library). As we are both seniors it costs only $10 each. We decide to stay for lunch of pea soup and a pressed toasted sandwich of ham and cheese, which is very good. We look at the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted from life. Interestingly, it is compared with four other portraits also on display. Shame that we have to come to NY to see these. Make our way upstairs to a fascinating exhibition of famous diaries. Beautiful handwriting. Many of the diaries are illustrated with excellent drawings and watercolours. Quick look at modernism exhibition, thence to the shop. I buy book in which to write this journal, John buys a DVD about the painter Roy Lichtenstein. Sadly, a Pierrpont Morgan DVD is only compatible with North American players.
We leave, to make our way to JJ Hats at 310 Fifth Avenue. A wonderful hat shop. The assistant first offers to steam and revive the hat J is wearing, and explains about storing on the crown NOT the brim. On John’s insistence he finds a replacement in thicker waterproof felt. There is a lot of performance in buying a hat here, but it’s great. Once hat is boxed and paid for, out into the street to hail a cab. Very sullen driver, but back to the Hilton in the dry. I buy some postcards, then to the room to rest. Went to the exec lounge for take-out tea and an apple. Then dressed for concert. I gave my new black velvet trouser suit its first outing, teamed with white frilly blouse and patent loafers. John wore his light blue jacket and new knitted tie (blue spot). Both wrapped up in coats (my black overcoat) then walked to the Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall. The weather forecast is probably correct - an icy chill to the wind. Just time for a quick snack before taking our seats. Security is greater than previously. My bag is checked. Seats are in the centre of the second tier. As the escalator is broken, it’s a long climb. First work, Prokofiev Overture in Bb. Not something either of us knows. Two basses, and no high strings. Then a new violin concerto by Sofia Gubaidulina (pictured), played flawlessly by Anne-Sophie Mutter.
After the interval, Tchaikovsky Symphony Number Two, a piece I know and have played. An enjoyable concert. No encore. Walk back to the Hilton, chill wind blowing.
The only April Fool’s joke today is the weather. It has been snowing. Fortunately, the snow hasn’t settled, and later changes to rain. Send some clothes to the hotel laundry, but make three attempts to get someone to collect it. Eventually the room maid chases up the laundry service. We decide to go to Barnes and Noble bookshop, in the rain, via the Rockefeller Center, where we stop for coffee. I make the mistake of adding ‘half-and-half’ to mine. Yuk! It’s horrible. From our table we can see the Met. Museum shop. We go in for a browse. I buy a silk glasses case.
Walk across to SAKS Fifth Avenue where I look for a chocolate-brown silk scarf.
No luck, but the assistant is very pleasant and helpful. At Barnes and Noble I buy a card. We have lunch in their very average cafe. Walk back to hotel. I finish reading Alice in Wonderland, have a rest, and write postcards. Later I discover that I have addressed one to the General Hospital. Jetlag, or age? Evening meal at Etrusca, the hotel’s own restaurant. The menu is full of bullshit items. We opt for linguine with lobster, which proves to be good. Against our better judgement we order dessert. John’s is a chestnut cream with ice cream. Mine a chocolate and orange tart with ice cream and pear. Mine is good, but too much. With the tip, the bill is $110 - plenty. Back to the room to read and sleep.
After breakfast we walk in Central Park. Sit by a pond in the sunshine. Speak to two women passing by, one taking an Italian Pointer for a walk. See squirrels and different birds. One bird appeared to be a cross between a jackdaw and a woodpecker.. Walked as far a the zoo. Stopped at the cafe, where the coffee was awful. Left the Park and walked across Fifth Avenue, then Fourth Avenue past Benny Goodman’s old apartment. This area remarkably quiet. Along 69th St., back towards the Park. Lots of lovely houses, one a superb Brownstone. John asked a woman about the houses. She was very chatty, said that even a small one-bed apartment would cost around the equivalent of £2,000 per month.
Then to the left down Fifth Avenue, looking in shop windows. Many beautiful clothes on display. Call at the Apple Cube, which is extremely full, and smells of farts. I buy a new case for my iPhone. We watch a group being shown how to make best use of an iPad. All are women, save for one boy. No men!
Call at Bergdorf Goodman. John buys another knitted tie. We lunch in the Trump Grill, adjacent to Tiffany’s. Okay, but rather stodgy.
Back to the hotel to rest, then take a walk to Times Square, which is tacky, and very busy. We are glad to walk north, away from the crowds. Buy a Starbucks take-out, watch telly and write cards. I’m so glad we don’t have TV at home. It’s a real time-waster. Most of the programmes are awful.
Awake at 7.am. I think I am adjusting my body clock now. The sky is clear and blue, so looks like a good day. We decide to walk to Grand Central. I notice a police march to the Hilton, accompanied by a pipe band. This seems to be a regular feature in NY. We set off past MoMA. The sun is shining along the street, very pleasant walking. On our way we stop at the Waldorf=Astoria for a mooch around the ground floor. A brunch is laid out, and standards seem higher than at our last visit. In one of the side corridors there is a slide show of the old and new Waldorf. The present building opened in 1931, and looks very slick compared with the ornate old one. The Empire State building now occupies the site of the old Waldorf. We carry on towards Grand Central, taking in the lobby of the Marriott. We walk under the Helmsley and enter Grand Central via the MetLife building.
The concourse of these big offices is big, shiny, expensive and well-kept. In Grand Central we stand and admire the Grand Hall, then downstairs for an awful coffee. See Outreach For The Homeless contacting those in need.
Go out via 42nd Street exit and walk to Madison Ave. Walk on sunny side of Madison as far as the Rockefeller Center. Stop here for a Cucina take-out. Modest by American standards. Then walk back to the hotel for a rest. Encounter successful participants from women’s half marathon. Every Sunday morning there seems to be some sort of an event. After lunch we walk to the Lincoln Center. We are seated in the centre right of the first tier. Next to me are five very old Jewish women, obviously regular concert-goers. Excellent concert: Beethoven Trio, Penderecki duo for violin and double-bass, Rihm Duo (ditto) and Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings. Encore of Air on a G String, dedicated to the Japanese earthquake victims. Everything played immaculately. It’s so nice to hear chamber music, and a real treat to hear the double-bass featured. Preferred the Penderecki to the Rihm. Anne Sophie Mutter, violin, Roman Patkoló, bass. Stopped on way back to have Swedish meatballs at Columbus Circle - very good.
Tomorrow will be our 41st wedding anniversary.
We decide to walk right round Central Park.
THIRTEEN Series Olmsted and America's Urban Parks (video opens in a new window)
The day is overcast and cool - good for walking. We walk to the Park along the Avenue of the Americas, then turn left along the south side of the Park, to walk north up Central Park West. There are beautiful apartment buildings along here, with detailed ornamentation. Two or three buildings are undergoing renovation work because the corners are crumbling. A few individual houses remain between the apartment blocks. Queues wait for the Nat. Hist. Mus. to open. In the Park we spot a black squirrel. Is this unusual here? We stop at 108th St., at a Turkish Deli, for baklava and good coffee.
There is much evidence of gentrification towards the north of the Park and along 110th, on which street there is a correction centre between the apartments on the edge of Harlem. Pass Duke Ellington’s statue and head south within the Park at Harlem Meer, parallel to Central Park East. The Park here has been cleaned up and improved. Plenty of good playgrounds for children, and banks of daffodils. We leave the Park around 102nd St, to go into the Cooper-Hewitt Museum for lunch. Other people in the small cafe seem to be employees. The special exhibition is of Van Cleef & Arpel’s jewellery (not one of John’s great interests!). However, he borrows an i-Tablet with a museum catalogue. But it proves to be not very wieldy. The paper catalogue is easier to use. Some of the jewellery is eye-catching, beautifully made, sparkles and is very well displayed.
After leaving the museum we return to the hotel. Then set off for Columbus Circle. We have sushi. Look in Samsung, whose TV screens are fantastically high-definition. Their domestic appliances are enormous compared with what’s available at home. Next to Borders, where Eva Longoria is signing her new book. We find an article in the National Geographic, about the Highline.
This morning is raining and miserable. We catch a cab to the Metropolitan Museum. Even at 10.00 am there is a queue (line) for the coat check, and a shorter queue for admission. We have specifically come to see the guitar makers’ exhibition. John rents an iPad. This time it is a success, with examples of the guitars being played. The exhibition is not large, but covers the history of guitar-making, particularly in the USA. See a film of guitar making. Similar to making a bass. The workmanship is beautiful.
We wait for the cafe to open at 11.30. After coffee and cake we look at some impressionist paintings. Then to musical instrument gallery where John finds one of Benny Goodman’s clarinets. We browse the shop, buy a guitar book and postcards for guitar friends, and a DVD for us. Back to the Hilton for lunch in the coffee shop. I have lentil soup, which is good, John has a Reuben, which is huge.
At 4.30 I sneak out to the lounge for a cup of tea. Irritating children look over other guests’ shoulders as they use the computers.
At 6.30 we set out for the Lincoln Center. Across the road from the hotel there are spotlights and a plastic shelter outside the Ziegfield Theater, for the premiere of the movie Arthur. Helen Mirren and Russell Brand are to attend. Limousines are parked down West 54th Street. At the Lincoln Center, most of the audience appears to be Jewish; the show is about Yiddish theatre. People take so long to get seated that the performance is late starting. More people arrive after the first ten minutes.
The show is well performed, but we find it slightly boring, and leave at the interval. Walk back to the hotel, stopping to buy flowers. On TV, Piers Morgan interviews Simon Cowell.
After breakfast in the lounge we walk down to the Rockefeller Center. John to queue for a shoe-shine, I go in search of the Maison du Chocolat, located on the first floor. When I open the door there is a delicious smell of high-quality chocolate. I browse, and select a bag of milk and plain fish shapes, for my friend Mandy. I am offered a dark ganache chocolate, delicious. Then I go to search for the Japanese sweet shop on 49th St. I try to leave the Rockefeller Plaza on the lower lever and find myself on the walkway to the station. When I get above ground I discover I am on the opposite side of the road from the Rockefeller Center. Had I gone out of the front door of the chocolate shop I would have been only a few yards from the Japanese shop! This sweet shop has goods beautifully displayed. While I’m deciding what to buy two women come in to take a photograph of the displays. I buy presents for neighbours, and also two bean curd pies for us. Total cost, $58. Rest back at the hotel, then walk across to Bloomingdale's. We pass an atrium where there is a cafe. We have been here before, and I remembered that sparrows flew around.
When we open the door, there are indeed sparrows flying indoors, between the trees. Here there are lots of office workers eating salads, but the salads are enormous. To Bloomingdale's, passing many well-know designer shops. No success with the brown scarf. Take the escalator to the café. The store seems a lot less special than I remember. On return cab ride the streets are being shut off in anticipation of Obama's visit. We leave the cab before Avenue of the Americas - just as well, as there is no access to the hotel by road. From our 44th floor room we watch progress. Several very large trucks, full of sand or gravel, block 53rd Street. Police vehicles block 6th Avenue. There is a tent at the side of the Sheraton, with a large entrance flap to accommodate a vehicle. We guess that this hides the President leaving his car and entering the building, a ‘Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility’, being a tent designed to keep communications secure when the President is out and about. There is a succession of motorcycle outriders, police cars and ambulances. At last a vehicle leaves the motorcade and stops in the tent. Police and vehicles continue to hang around. A helicopter circles overhead. We later hear that Obama had been in Philadelphia in the morning and was back in Washington at night.
After tea we set off to walk to ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ on W46th St, as Daryl Sherman is appearing there. Eventually we find the venue, which is a small bar about half a mile west of Times Square. The piano bar is at the back, and very cramped. The entrance is $10, plus two drinks. (Total after one hour is $45). Daryl looks good, and responds to all her supporters. She invites another pianist, Ronnie Whyte, to join her, to play, sing solos and duets. Much of the music is by Cole Porter. The piano is out of tune, which doesn’t help. I sit next to an American fan, keen to press on me his familiarity with Daryl and Ronnie. Afterwards we greet Daryl and agree to contact her soon.
Back in the hotel room we watch Piers Morgan interview Russell Brand on TV. I change my opinion of Brand a little. We also see a Japanese TV programme about red-crested cranes, which can live for 30-60 years. They mate for life. Such long-lived partnerships make them into a Japanese symbol for successful marriage and business. The population has been rescued from near extinction. I much prefer Japanese TV programmes. They are more sedate. You actually learn something.
After breakfast we walk to Rockefeller Center. I wear boots so that I can have them cleaned. There are five people in front of me at the shoe-shine. I’m not sure if the guys will clean my boots. The manager agrees to do so. Eventually it’s my turn and I climb up to sit on the shoe-shine chair. On the TV there is a report of a further 7.4 grade earthquake in NE Japan. Poor people. The shoe-shine man makes a superb job of my boots. He uses at least four different types of polish, and even cleans the edges of the soles. Outside the shop window, tourists take pictures of the shoe shine parlour. It costs me $3 plus tip. Excellent value. We then walk to MoMA. John qualifies as a senior, I still have to pay full price - $36 in total. Go straight to second-floor café, and both choose grilled salmon salad, which is very good. On my right an old lady waits for her friend. She eats her own bread roll, drinks her own water. Her friend arrives, grumbling about the service system in the café. The pair could have come straight out of a Woody Allen movie.
Look at an exhibition of kitchen design, which includes Tupperware and a Dyson cleaner. Also a collection of black-and-white stills from old movies that show kitchen scenes.
Back at the hotel the TV carries an interview with Eva Longoria, who had been in Borders when we there.
Later, at the Lincoln Center the show Company is a gala night, with many well-dressed people about. Our seats are a first-tier box, where we have to sit sideways. Not very comfortable for $275 each! The large orchestra includes saxophones and electric bass. Unfortunately we both find the show boring! The orchestra is excellent, the singers professional, but we don’t feel engaged. At the interval we decide to leave. In the lobby we are stopped by a man who would like a ticket for the second half. I give him mine. Then John is stopped for his ticket. This is incredible.
I phone the Plaza Hotel and book tea for 2.15pm. I also phone and book a car (not a taxi) to take us to the airport tomorrow, and arrange for a late hotel check-out. After breakfast, and making all these arrangements, we walk to the Frick through Central Park. A lovely sunny though chilly day, so the weather is just right for a walk. We exit the Park at 69th St., walk a block north and turn along 70th St. Admission is $15 for John and $20 for me. Qualification for a senior differs. It was 62 for this gallery. In others it is 60 years. The Frick is a pleasure. There is a bonus of a Rembrandt exhibition. We take time to sit quietly in the courtyard and watch the fountains, which is welcome after the walk.
Back to the hotel, to enjoy tea and fruit from the lounge. After a short rest we change before walking to the Plaza. We arrive early and sit outside for a few minutes. Then we ascended the red-carpeted steps and walked through to the Palm Court. Having told the maitre d’ that we had a booking, she shows us to our table immediately. As she takes our coats she says how much she likes my jacket. Our waiter is very proper, but attentive and helpful. We choose the Classic Tea, which consists of tiny sandwiches (beef, lobster, cucumber and ham), two small scones and a selection of beautiful, tiny, cakes. We can’t manage all of the cakes, so our waiter kindly packs them for us to take away. The cost: $110:00 plus tip, but worth it. The Plaza was built in 1907. The Palm Court has a Tiffany Glass roof. For many years it was covered, but recently the roof was renovated. The glass is visible again, in all its glory.
The rain is spitting at 16.30 when we set off on a zig-zag route to Alice’s Tea Cup on E64th St. and Lexington. When we arrive, Daryl Sherman is waiting for the waitress to clear a table for three. To English minds they have a eccentric idea about afternoon tea: enormous salads, sandwiches and cakes, scones which would each be sufficient for two, and tea brought to the table after the food. The china is an assortment of old stuff, as is the furniture. However, the upstairs is light and pleasant, with Lewis Carroll quotations painted on the wall. We have a good chat to Daryl, and enjoy simple tea and toast. Very generously, this kindly-natured woman treats us.
After breakfast we try to check in online for our return flight, but fail! At 11.00 am we walk towards Central Park. Take an early lunch at the AQ Cafe at Columbus Circle and Broadway. Swedish meatballs, as usual. Behind us are two large women tucking into generous platefuls of food. Our waitress says she loves our English accents. On departure towards the Park we notice a shoe-repairers with shoe shine. Make a note for next time. The Park is busy, with many tricycle rickshaws about. Also many dog walkers, couples and joggers.
I hate the next few hours, when one has no home base. Fortunately we have the room until 2:00 pm. The car is due to pick us up; we won’t have to wait around the hotel with cases. The Avenue of the Americas is blocked for a Scottish parade, complete with kilts and bagpipes by the hundred. Traffic is at a standstill, cabs are few, with a long queue for taxis. Our car arrives fifteen minutes late. Slow progress until we are clear of 6th Ave, when we move out of Manhattan rapidly. Reach JFK by 3.15 pm. At Terminal 4 by 3.30, and go to the head of the business check-in. During the journey I notice that John is frequently addressed as ‘Mr Brown’. Often I don’t get a name.
After 6hrs 20 minutes we make a smooth landing in Amsterdam, at 6.30 am local time. On the Cityhopper up to Leeds our seats are at the front, we are offered newspapers, and breakfast is offered as soon as the seat belt sign is off. Out of the window we gaze down on the Humber Estuary, which we crossed in the opposite direction about two hours ago. Withernsea is covered by low cloud, but we spot the Humber Bridge and Goole. A beautiful sunny day, the flight is smooth and actually enjoyable. We land at 8.30 am. To our surprise, the luggage has arrived with us. At the Arrow taxi office the £18 pre-paid fare is expensive. Home by 9:15 am. The weather is so warm that we sit outside our front door for half an hour. We are home.
New York Villanelle
Steel-bright shine Gotham's treasures, some profound,
while skills unnumbered bless this famous isle.
In shade of lofty towers fine works abound.
The planet's best, things most men deem profound,
are here. New York comes first for poise and style.
Steel-bright shine Gotham's treasures, some profound.
Achievements of the talented redound,
where powers of art and commerce reconcile.
In shade of lofty towers fine works abound.
At Av'ry Fisher, hear the Phil's rich sound,
let world-class shows on Broadway spark your smile.
Steel-bright shine Gotham's treasures, some profound.
The Frick's and Morgan's contents are renowned,
their prints, and oils, and documents beguile;
in shade of lofty towers fine works abound.
Grand buildings, tallest known to man, surround
the streets and avenues of this small isle.
Steel-bright shine Gotham's treasures, some profound.
In shade of lofty towers fine works abound.