Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NEW YORK CITY DAY FOUR: The Guggenheim, History Of Natural Museum, The Met

Our last day in New York City. Insert your favorite scene of a man weeping. We had, in a sense, planned for this day before we left Toronto. We knew that we wanted to see some of the great museums in NYC. We had already been to MOMA in mid town but there were a few museums just north of our hotel, around the Park that we really wanted to check out and we knew that this day, Friday, was going to be rainy and cool so it was perfect time for a museum outing.
We went up 5th Avenue with Central Park on one side and on the other side real estate so expensive I was expecting to be charged rent just for looking at it. NYC is a city of statues and the Park has it's fair share from the traditional ...
... to the contemporary
We also encountered something I considered very New York, something glimpsed in movies and something you will not find in Toronto: A curb side book vendor. You really can buy pretty much everything on the streets of New York
As charming as all this was, our first objective was within our sights: The Guggenheim Museum, not only something on my NYC checklist, but something on my life checklist

Yesterday we had gone to the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA is a building that house art. The Guggenheim is a building that is art. Frank Lloyd Wright worked on the design for this museum for 15 years. It opened in 1959 six months after his death. One of the critiques of the museum was that its design would overshadow the actual exhibits. I cannot necessarily disagree
It is a beautiful building, almost entirely organic. The broad ramp goes up for 5 stories in a very gentle sweep the entire main space infused by the light from the gigantic skylight in the city. The colour of the ramp and walls is neutral, so it does let any art stand out; when were there the ramp was filled with the colorful "reclaimed" metal sculptures of John Chamberlain, it seemed a perfect setting for them
Besides the featured exhibit, the Guggenheim holds some ongoing exhibits, including modern and impressionist paintings. So I got to see original Van Goghs. Again. It's a tough life
I have to admit that visiting this place has been a long running dream of mine; sometimes in real life realizing one's dreams can be disappointing. Not so with the Guggenheim. It is a stunning place, the design leads to a sense of atmosphere, soothing and calm yet somehow still carrying a kind of energy. It is an interior space in which you can spend a long time and not feel enervated as you sometimes can
Down the street from the Guggenheim was the Met, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We didn't have time to tarry there but we decided to give it a quick look, as it was on our way

Our next objective today was not The Met, but the Museum of Natural History, on the other side of the Park. I grew up reading about this museum which was established in 1869. It was one of the first museums that featured dinosaur fossils and I remember reading the adventures of the fossil hunters who braved a lot of real danger in places like Mongolia in the late teens in order to bring home the bones. It is also the museum featured in the movie A Night At The Museum

The museum is a huge complex with over 30 buildings and as it always has its real emphasis is on research, like most museums only a fraction of its collections are on display. It is a very old school kind of museum; at a time where there weren't a lot of zoos and no TV, people got to view exotic wildlife through the museum's displays and diorama's ... and yes, most of these animals were once living. As I said, it's very old school

In New York when we told people we were going to the Museum of Natural History everyone kept telling us "You have to see the whale, you have to see the whale" The whale, as it turns out, is a life sized .. that would be 94 foot long .. model of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling in the Hall of Oceans. It may be a model but it's a pretty impressive sight

But still, what this museum is known for, is dinosaurs and it certainly did not disappoint. Before we got to the dinosaurs, we went through the hall of mammals ... here's an mastadon, a kind of elephant, which are not extinct ... hmmm I wonder if Bob Barker could have had something to do with that. Let's be honest, the dude is that old
But really, isn't it all about the dinosaurs? And until Stephen Spielberg refers to us the secret actual location of Jurassic Park, this is the best we have

The museum certainly has an impressive collection of fossils. It is a big place and there is a lot to it. We found it a bit bewildering to get around in; halls and corridors are not very well marked and finding a bathroom or an elevator probably resembled what the fossil hunters went through, wandering the deserts of Mongolia.
We had chalked up a lot more miles of walking today and we wanted to rest up for our final evening in New York so we made our way back to our hotel. It was feeling like home by then and our room, which had seemed small at first, was looming large in our minds. 

Being New York, there were always things to note on our way back to midtown. During our stay we were always admiring the beautiful ornate architecture of New York's historical building. This next structure is not at all beautiful, but it is famous, and if one admires anything about it, it would be ego

After resting up at the hotel, it was back down towards Times Square for our last night in New York. We wanted to go to some place special for our final meal ... wow that didn't sound too ominous did it. We had had some good food in the city but aside from our first night, hadn't really had a great dining experience. But I did buy slices from Famous Ray's Pizza and had a hot bagel from a vending truck and those were checkmarks so I was happy.

We decided to go to BB King's Blues Club, which had passed by yesterday. It is a kind of complex in its own right. There is the Lucille Cafe open during the day, a large club space upstairs and downstairs a small, dark, comfortable bar. That's where we went. The had a singer, a guy with acoustic, very reminiscent of Keb Mo. We had some Memphis style ribs, I had a beer brewed specially for the club and we toasted to our final night in New York.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

NEW YORK CITY DAY THREE: Rockefeller Center, Museum of Modern Art And Others

This would be a day of both plans and spontaneity coming together. We set off from our hotel to check off some mid town landmarks like Radio City Music Hall and the Rockefeller Center and try to get to Little Italy and Chinatown. With its grid system of numbered avenues and streets New  York is pretty easy get around and Collette became quite adept at it. One of the things we enjoyed about walking from destination to destination was all the little surprises we found along the way, like this sign-slash-sculpture outside an office building that I have seen in TV commercials and movies
You could say that this picture sums up how I feel about Collette. Yes, you may "Ahhhh" now

Radio City Music Hall, home of the "famous" Rockettes was a landmark we wanted to see. You can take a tour but as we approached the building, there was a long line up waiting to go in; it was a large group of young people waiting to go on the tour. And since one of us spends her entire day dealing with young people, we were happy to just take some images and check Radio City Music Hall off the list

The Hall is actually considered to part of the Rockefeller Center which is comprised of about 19 buildings in midtown Manhattan. Now considered a national monument construction on the complex began in the 30's and there are still many art deco flourishes

The Center is home to the NBC studios and the skating rink and the famous tree though that had already been removed; apparently Rockefeller was not a redneck .. you know, keeping the tree till Easter and the christmas lights on the roof all year long. The skating rink is home to some public art, the world's slowest Zamboni and the day that were there, an Asian angel complete with red fans

Rockefeller Center was a planned stop on our trip but the next site was not; across the street was St. Patrick's Cathedral, a beautiful church built in the mid 1800's
We just had intentions of snapping a few pics of the exterior of the church but as we stood there on the sidewalk they opened the doors to the public so we couldn't resist the opportunity to go inside. It is indeed a beautiful structure, huge and imposing in that Gothic style

This day was Thursday and another nice day weather wise. We knew that tomorrow, Friday, was supposed to be cool and rainy so we had planned to make that a day we would visit some of NYC's famous museums. A couple of them were north of where we were, on either side of Central Park but we were a couple of blocks away from the Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA, so we decided to do that check mark today.

Collete and I are both fans of Expressionism and MOMA has some truly fine examples of that painting style from Matisse, to Serault to Gaugin, Picasso and our favorite, Van Gogh. To stand in front of Starry Night, the actual canvas created by the artist is a very special experience and takes the work from an intellectual enjoyment to an emotional reaction

In addition to all the beautiful artwork inside the building, MOMA also features an outdoor courtyard where is collected many pieces of sculpture from equally famous artists such Picasso and Rodin and Max Ernst. 

After a couple hours getting our culture on at the MOMA, we set off in a southernly direction, ultimately heading for Canal Street which separates Little Italy from Chinatown. Of course, there was much to discover along the way. One of them was the Algonguin Hotel. Opened it 1902 it has been designated as  New York Historical landmark. It is famous as the location of the Algonguin Round Table where, in the 20's, drunks and writers of the day, sort of pre Bohemians, meant to rag on one another
New York is a city of neighbourhoods and it seems that every neighbourhood has its square. Each is a little different but they all gave you a sense of a meeting place, a communal space where locals came to meet, unwind and breathe in some moments of almost-quiet in the big city. 

Bryant Park hosts the main building of the New York City Public Library but we enjoyed it as a quiet sunny spot on this perfect March day. It's ornate Victorian fountain was operational, rare this early in the year
Collette and I are both fans of architecture, both Gothic and Victorian and Manhattan is filled with all of that. One of the building we wanted to see was the Flatiron Building, originally the Fuller Building. Completed in 1902, it sits on a triangle of land flanked by 5th Avenue, East 22nd St and 23rd Street. It was, for a time, the tallest building in New York City. Toronto has its own Flatiron building and it's lovely but this one was worth of its reputation

The Flatiron is part of Madison Square and this became one of my favorite park/squares in New York City. Established in 1847, it became a shopping/residential area in the 1900's and attracted the construction of many beautiful Victorian buildings

I loved the feel of this park, it was small but filled with trees and open paved spaces, fountains and monuments and most importantly: Filled with New Yorkers. Strolling, reading, kids playing, hustling, making music, performing tai chi ... A space made alive by those who use it

And yes, that last statue is indeed Andy Warhol.

From Madison Square we walked over to Little Italy. Still a bit early in the year for the area to be really humming and a bit early in the day as well. Too early for dinner but we stopped by this very atmospheric  authentic place to have coffee and cannoli. We were informed by a customer that this cafe was rather renown for its cannoli and we found it quite by accident; the renown is not misplaced.

Canal Street separates Little Italy from Chinatown and although our feet were beginning to fade on us, we decided to take a quick stroll there. Collette bought herself a purse, not a knock off but a bit of Hong Kong leather work.  Everywhere we turned there were little curbside stalls selling bags, umbrellas, fans and scarves
We found what I thought was a perfect example of NYC Chinatown street vending; they say every food is better served on a stick; how about octopus on a stick? Or chicken gizzards on a stick? Thank god that cannoli was so filling
It had been a long day and our dogs were protesting, as they say, so we took our first NYC subway trip home.

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