Saturday, April 9, 2011

Apple Whirl

"... 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.

Macy's at Herald Square, Broadway entrance.

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.

View to the northeast from the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

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.

Diane in Times Square, late afternoon.

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.

Fortitude, the library lion.

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.

The Gapstow Bridge, Central Park (photograph by Diane Harrington).

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.


Betty said...

You're a great story teller! I am now longing for a trip to the Big Apple. Lucky for us it's only a 3 hr drive away and I'm/we're both retired.

G Dan Mitchell said...

We were also recently forced, forced I say, to enjoy a week in NYC after not being there for many years after our oldest son moved there. We felt positively obligated to spend a week there last summer. Like tou, we also stayed in the mid-town area and had an astonishing week of food and music and food and museums and food and subway travel and wandering about. Did I mention the food?

I still would not want to live there, but what a great place to visit. Often.


Sherwood Harrington said...

Betty -- Betty Andrews? If so, it's great to see you over here on SherWords! (Actually, even if you're NOT Betty Andrews, it's great to see you...) Also, if so, you know that I grew up that same distance from NYC, but I only remember going there twice as a kid. My dad hated the place -- which is a little ironic, given that the most-viewed photos on Flickr by FAR are ones that he took in NYC on those trips!

Sherwood Harrington said...

And Dan, did you like the food? We didn't concentrate too much on that in this whirlwind -- too many other things to do in a short time -- but the one time we did go out for a big meal was great.

Have you visited (or do you plan to visit) High Line Park in the old meatpacking district? I would love to see some G. Dan Mitchell images from there -- seems like it would be a great place to combine both your natural and urban landscape skills in the same frames! We didn't get there this time, but it just barely missed the cut.

(To others: Dan Mitchell is a longtime friend and colleague at DeAnza College in California. He teaches music and is also a very fine professional photographer, specializing in landscapes, both traditional wild ones and urban ones. His blog is well worth visiting not only for its very fine images but also for his interesting and informative descriptions of his photographic practices and procedures.)

Brian Fies said...

Fantastic. I love just wandering around Manhattan. The first time I was there, maybe 20 years ago, I had absolutely no sense of the city's geography and was constantly astonished by turning a corner and coming face-to-face with yet another famous landmark. For being the heart of the world's Great City, it felt surprisingly intimate. I've very much enjoyed my few visits since, even my most recent one during a blizzard. But the way Times Square is now blocked off for pedestrians still seems very strange to me; I don't know why New Yorkers allow it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Hayden P.--not entirely positive, I gather? I have not been inside the sphere (didn't have time) but thought the space stuff surrounding it was pretty well done.

Glad you and Diane had such a nice getaway. That alone is inspirational.

Mike said...

A couple of decades ago, I was at an event at the Freedom Forum and, after, was walking down Mad Ave at 5 p.m. with a former AP bureau chief, now an editor elsewhere, to catch our trains. As we knifed through the crowds, I said, "At the risk of repeating the cliche, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here and put up with all this." He replied, "When I was here, I found it exhilarating!" And there, dear friends, is all the difference in the world, not just in cities but in entire lives and careers. Some like it hot.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Great choices of places to visit, though i'd have added the Strand bookstore despite it being the last place i need to go(!)

I've been to NYC 4 times - once in August and all 3 other times, in October. You've about convinced me that early spring is the time to go!

ronnie said...

Happy Anniversary! Husband and I keep muttering about a trip to NYC but never seem to quite get around to it. This has inspired me to move it from "someday" to "let's start a long-term plan".

Sherwood Harrington said...

Brian, no it wasn't entirely positive, but I'm still not sure if I'd ascribe that more to the show or to my own inaccurate expectations.

Mike, part of the strangeness I felt there was that there was no knifing through crowds to be done. And, Ruth, Adam says that in his experience spring is the best time in NYC because of the effect it has on the people -- he says that's the one time of year you can pretty much count on more people being pleasant than otherwise.

And ronniecat, you're back! You were missed, but by now I think we've all figured out what's probably going on when you vanish for a while.

Margaret Ryall said...

Love my little vicarious trip to New York from your shots. New York is actually the first city I experienced (at age 20). I went from a small town in Newfoundland to New York to visit my aunt. It was a life changing experience and a whole series of firsts for me - food, art, fashion.... Now you post shots of New York forty years later. It brought me back. And you are a great storyteller.

Adam said...

Awesome post Dad. Perhaps my long lost little cousin could introduce me me to some big-time NYC showbiz types?

Sherwood Harrington said...

Margaret -- thanks for your kind words! It seems that you and I were last in NYC at about the same time; it's a radically, radically different place now (at least Midtown is.)

Adam -- careful about claiming anybody named "Joey Harrington" as a relative.