"... and the Battery's down." View southward from the 86th floor observation platform of the Empire State Building.
Note: PLEASE CLICK ON THE PHOTOS to see them larger and at better resolution.
We had some money left over in the fund we had saved up for our trip to Ireland last summer. Being adults with a fairly typical associated raft of adult-type financial responsibilities, there were any number of adult-type things we should have done with it.
We didn't do any of those.
Instead we used it to run off to New York City for three days to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Selfish and immature, maybe... but, damn, it felt good. It was all the sweeter because we hardly told anyone we were going, so it seemed more like an elopement than a honeymoon. Delicious, just the two of us.
Neither Diane nor I had been in New York City in almost 40 years, so we saw the place with "new eyes," essentially as first-time tourists. We intentionally restricted our range to Midtown (roughly 33rd to 82nd Streets and 3rd to 9th Avenues) and tried to plan for only one or two major sights in each of our three days.
We also planned for a lot of walking and/or subway transit (we remembered enough about the place to not even consider renting a car), so we left the bulky Nikon camera at home and used only Diane's little pocket point-n-shoot for pictures. It did a fine job where the light was bright enough, but didn't do well at night or in some indoor circumstances.
What follows here is just a sketch of where we went and what we did.
Our first full day was Tuesday, March 29th, in the week of my spring break (see, we weren't completely irresponsible about this; I didn't take any time off work!) We couldn't have been any luckier as concerns the weather: crisp and clear, warm enough so that just a simple coat would do but cool enough that we never broke a sweat.
We set out from our hotel westward from Park Avenue along 49th street, walking to Rockefeller Center, where we gawked for a while. At left is a three-frame panorama of the Rock tower, stitched together by Photoshop. (The iconic golden statue of Prometheus overseeing the skating rink is barely visible at the bottom.) From there we wandered northward along 5th Avenue, admiring the shop windows -- and being astonished (not for the last time this trip) by how clean everything was. There was no litter in the streets, no graffiti, no grit of any kind but metaphorical. I began to suspect that what I remembered as Manhattan had been replaced by Manhattan-land, a theme park.
Above: Glorious St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue. Joseph Campbell once remarked that a society's strongest values are reflected in its tallest structures. Manhattan's grand spiritual places, like this one, seem dwarfed and swallowed by adjacent grand commercial towers.
Above: Diane entering a little shop on 5th Avenue. What that shop is can be deduced from one of two things: the sign over its door (click the picture to view larger) or, more easily, the truck parked in front of it. Despite my terror, we actually got out of the place relatively cheaply.
From Tiffany's near Central Park, we took the subway back down to Macy's at Herald Square. Again, the cleanliness of everything was astonishing.
This was the first week of Macy's annual flower show, in which the entire, massive building is turned into a botanical and floral wonder. I had expected a lot of cut-flower displays, but most of the flora was living. Throughout the store there were many groups of 15 to 20 people taking guided tours of the displays. In the foreground of the photo above, in front of the Macy's entrance, is Broadway. This part of that artery has been permanently blocked off as a plaza.
The Empire State Building is just a couple of blocks from Macy's, so we strolled over to see how long the lines were for the elevators to the observation deck. There were no lines at all. The views from the top were spectacular -- there was virtually no haze at all, so sightlines were essentially unlimited. I chose this frame, including the Chrysler Building and the Queensboro Bridge (or the "59th Street Bridge" as it's commonly called), as a sample for this post. More views from the top at higher resolution, including a couple of 180 degree panoramas, are available in this set on Flickr.
After the Empire State Building excursion, we took the subway a few blocks north to Times Square -- which was perhaps the biggest astonishment of all to me. It is a completely different place from the sordid yet vibrant Times Square I remember. This new Times Square is squeaky-clean and family-friendly. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, necessarily, just that it's as different as Salt Lake City is from certain places in Amsterdam. Portions of Broadway here, too, are permanently blocked off from traffic; this cartoon sums up the changes nicely.
Unknown to us, while we were wandering around Times Square, President Obama was just a few yards away in the ABC studios giving an interview. The NYPD guys above -- complete with the disconcerting automatic weapons on prominent display -- turned out to be part of his security.
That evening we went to see Elton John's "Billy Elliot." Our seats were incredible -- first row, so close that we could reach out and touch the lip of the stage while our shoulders were still touching our seat backs. The show itself was everything we had hoped it would be, and we intend to see it in San Francisco this summer when it arrives on tour. The role of Billy on the night we saw it was played by Joseph Harrington who I don't think is any relation, but who is certainly one very, very talented boy.
Above: Our hotel on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th. We had a 5th floor "mini-suite." I told you we weren't exactly frugal about this. Once in a lifetime, etc.
This brisk morning started with a walk to the New York Public Library main branch, and a visit with Patience and Fortitude, the iconic lions at the gate. From there, after tarrying in Bryant Park for a bit, we took the N train to the southeast corner of Central Park.
We first took a horse carriage ride around the southern part of the park, up to about 81st Street and back. Our driver (who took the above photo) was a very pleasant aspiring actor named Thomas, and he explained why so many of the carriages in Central Park sport Irish Republic flags. Turns out that the largest of the companies that operate the horsedrawn cabs in the park -- the outfit he works for -- is owned by an Irish expatriate. In an interesting co-incidence, two of our favorite photos of ourselves were taken within the past nine months by drivers of tourists' horsedrawn carriages owned by Irishmen. The little one at right was taken in Killarney in August.
After our carriage ride, we strolled around the park for a while -- the trees' lack of leaves afforded great sight lines, and, as the day before, the weather was absolutely perfect for walking.
We wound up at the American Museum of Natural History. A must-see for us was the Rose Center for Earth and Space, including the new (to me ) Hayden Sphere, which incorporates a planetarium in its upper hemi. The planetarium, like our own at DeAnza College, is one of the few in America that has both digital and optical-mechanical sky simulation systems. We took in a planetarium show, which may or may not be the topic of a future SherWords post, depending on what I ultimately determine concerning how reasonable and objective my current opinion is. No matter how that inner battle works out, the magnificence of the surrounding displays and architecture is worth a 3,000-mile trip all by themselves.
After the planetarium show, we scurried upstairs to say hello to some old friends -- some very old friends -- including this cutie, deinonychus antirrhopus. In the background is his big friend T. Rex. The skeletons are posed differently now from what they were 40 years ago, and now impart a sense of motion that was lacking before.
After freshening up back at the hotel, we went out for dinner to a steakhouse on East 57th and then strolled Park Avenue for a while. We slept like stones that night, as our bodies were starting to remind us that we are in our seventh, not third, decades.
Our final full day was gray and drizzly, which was just fine with us. The "only" thing we had on our list of must-sees for that day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you've ever been to the Met, you know why there are quotation marks around the word only in the previous sentence. If you haven't -- well, it's a little like saying the only thing on our list of things to see today is Canada. The place is gargantuan, incorporating in its permanent collections alone almost 20 different sections, each of which could consume at least half a day even for someone who knows as little about art as we do.
We concentrated on the European Paintings section for our day, but spent some time in the Photography, Ancient Egyptian Art, and Arms and Armor sections as well.
In the European Paintings section, we found this evidence from Goya that Lolcats are not new.
For our last night in New York, we went to see, hear, and feel the riotous "American Idiot." Green Day isn't for everyone, but we love their music, and this show, well, rocked. I'm glad that we saved it for last, though, because it was going to drain every last bit of energy we had from us no matter when we saw it, it was that good.
And it did deplete us.
That night, we both had a hard time sleeping because our muscles were yelling at us so loudly. By the time we were somewhere over Iowa the next afternoon, both of us started with the sniffles. And by the time we dragged ourselves back in to Fort Harrington, we had both come down with full-blown colds. It took a while for us to recuperate -- and my first week of classes for the Spring quarter were a bit of a trial -- but the experience was worth that price, too.