Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New York City Journal

The overnight bus is not for wimps.

I boarded the 7:00 p.m. bus to Montreal, where I caught the bus to New York. I sat with a nice guy – about my age, maybe slightly younger – who currently works at the Stittsville Bakery. (He carried a large bag filled with loaves of bread – Christmas gifts for his friends.) He makes the trip to New York to visit often, and was an expert traveler. I appreciated his expertise. There were several stops, including at customs, where we schlepped our stuff off the bus at about 2:30 am and waited in line to speak with the customs agent. We stopped again in Albany, but didn’t have to get off the bus. I slept reasonably well, but by the time we got to Albany, my butt was pretty sore. The iPod was essential for drowning out other people, and the travel pillow I borrowed from Kathy was the only thing that made the trip bearable.

We pulled through the Lincoln Tunnel at about 6:15 am. I changed my clothes – discarding yoga pants and sneakers for jeans and leather boots – in the Port Authority Bus Terminal bathroom, next to what appeared to be a well put together homeless woman who was doing her laundry in the sink, right under the sign that says, “Don’t do your laundry in the sink.” I put in my contact lenses, brushed my teeth, and generally tried to wake up. I decided to not schlep the tripods that day, and to save them for Sunday’s adventures.

The only time I felt the least bit antsy about my safety was in the early hours of that morning, dragging my suitcase along 9th avenue to the Westway Diner. The streets were empty, except for a few people here and there, and I found myself thinking, “I could be mugged right now and nobody would know.” But it didn’t take long for the streets to fill up. By the time I was done breakfast, the sun was up, and the city was awake.

I walked to the place where I would leave my luggage until I could check in. It is another building where my landlord has property, and it has a doorman. A warm smile, batted eyelashes and a generous tip ensured the safety of my luggage for the morning.

Free from my suitcase, but armed with my backpack and purse, I hopped in a cab and headed to Ground Zero.

People With AIDS Plaza
Downtown Manhattan is beautiful in the early morning – the sun reflects off the tall, white buildings, and the streets are quiet. Even at that early hour on a Saturday, though, there was construction at Ground Zero. Hoarding around the site boldly proclaimed the plans for the future World Trade Center. I couldn’t find a memorial of any kind, but signs indicated that there were plans for one in the new building.


Federal Courthouse StairsI made my way to Foley Square. (There was a Starbucks, it was open, and it was wonderful.) I drank my latte on the steps of the Federal Courthouse (seen in many, many episodes of Law and Order) and watched the traffic. I basked in the reality that I was really here, in New York City, and had two full days ahead of me. It was magic.

In MemoryI grabbed a taxi down to Stone Street Historic District, wandered around by Battery Park, and then decided to walk up Broadway. I saw the tree outside the New York Stock Exchange. I stopped at Trinity Church (Nicolas Cage was conspicuously absent). The church itself is gorgeous inside, but it was the churchyard that really captivated me. There are graves in the churchyard dating back to the late 1700s. And right across the street is the New York Stock Exchange! These graves have stayed there for centuries, witnesses to the evolution of New York City. It was pretty powerful.


My Broadway trek brought me to Century 21 Discount Store, which advertises itself as “New York City’s Best Kept Secret”. Well, the secret’s out, because it was insane. It was about 10:00 am, and the store was FULL of bargain hunters. Designer clothes at crazy cheap discounts. Tried on a couple of things (yoga wear), but didn’t find anything I loved.

Then, on a whim, I stopped at St. Paul’s Chapel.

St. Paul’s Chapel is steeped in history. George Washington worshiped here on his inauguration day in 1789. The little chapel somehow survived the terrorist attacks, despite being adjacent to the World Trade Center. As a result, it became the home base for rescue workers immediately following the attacks, and remained a core site for the volunteer effort even eight months later.

There was an exhibit on called Unwavering Spirit: Hope and Healing at Ground Zero.

I saw posters that family members had created as they searched for word of their loved ones. I saw prayer cards for people who perished in the attacks – office workers, fire fighters, police officers. I saw letters from strangers, pictures drawn by children and sent in from all over the country, and in fact, all over the world, with prayers and wishes. There was a huge pile of badges belonging to the different fire and police organizations who sent volunteers from all over the country.

By the time I was halfway through the exhibit, I was weeping openly. I went through the exhibit three times.

I believe in you.

Further up Broadway, I found myself in Soho. I stopped at a huge Old Navy and took advantage of a door crasher special – jeans for $12.00. (I tried The Flirt fit, but it just wasn’t me – too low-rise. I ended up buying The Sweetheart. I didn’t even bother with The Diva. I should stop trying to be something I’m not. *grin*)

The pedestrian traffic was getting really busy at this point – it was like getting swept up in a current. (I thought it was a big deal, but I had not yet experienced Midtown on a Saturday night. More on that later.)

Along Broadway in Soho

Then I hit Victoria’s Secret.

Ok, first, let me tell you about my love affair with Victoria’s Secret.

I made my first online order from them in late high school, and never looked back. For most of university, it was all I’d wear: VS bras and underwear. Always cotton, always simple. If I ever got naked in front of you in university, chances are I took off some kind of item from Victoria’s Secret.

A few years ago, I began diversifying for the sake of my finances. Between the exchange rate, duty, and shipping, their “reasonable” prices were less than reasonable. I discovered Fruit of the Loom underwear was just as comfortable and long-lasting.

But I had a hard time finding good “everyday” bras. I have strapless bras, I have sports bras, I have an incredibly sexy but really uncomfortable lace bra. But for “everyday” bras, I haven’t had much luck. Lately, between the beat-up VS cotton bras to which I’ve been clinging, the weight loss, and the money I’ve been spending on clothes that actually fit me, my bra situation has been pretty dismal.

So the opportunity to be in the Soho location of Victoria’s Secret… and actually TRY THINGS ON before purchasing them? Crazy.

I had two of the loveliest women waiting on me hand and foot. They kept calling me “Sweetie” and “Honey” and it didn’t bother me at all. I got properly fitted. (Ok, I’m sorry… when did I become a C cup? How did that happen?) I tried on at least a dozen bras. I bought three – they are gorgeous, they fit really well, and they make me look and feel spectacular. And they aren’t “plain Jane” – they are super comfortable AND incredibly sexy. Between the bras and the underwear, I dropped about $140.00... US. It was freaking AWESOME. 

Greenwich Village Historic DistrictGreenwich VillageI cabbed to Greenwich Village, which is where I would want to live if I lived in New York City. I took photos in the old historic district, saw the Cherry Lane Theater, and explored the little streets around Grove Court (which is now guarded by a gate).

I attempted to go for lunch at Peanut Butter & Co., but it was too busy, so I slipped into a little bar/restaurant called Shade. It was practically empty, and I have no idea why. It was cozy and enchanting, and I had an amazing glass of German Riesling with a flat-bread sandwich involving prosciutto and cheese. There was great music playing, and you could sit in the booths (which have gorgeous cushions scattered among them) and look out the window for hours.

At this point, I determined that my accommodations were ready. I cabbed to the place where I'd left my luggage (thankfully, it was still there) and schlepped it to the studio apartment. It wasn't luxurious, but it was safe and reasonably clean. (I checked the bed for bedbugs and was satisfied there were none.) I was happy I'd brought my own towel.

I Stayed Here... Yes, Here

I spent a couple of hours settling in, flattening out clothes, resting, showering and getting ready for my Saturday night on the town.

I walked to 21 Club for dinner. (The walk was CRAZY. You know on Canada Day when everyone is trying to get home after the fireworks and the streets are totally crammed with people all going in different directions? Yeah, Midtown is like that EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT.) I ate in the Bar Room, and it was an amazing experience. They manage to cram a whole whack of people into a room, but they light the tables in such a way that it feels really intimate. Some fun facts about 21 Club. I sat in the same section that holds Humphrey Bogart's favourite table.

I went with the Prix Fixe menu. I selected a game terrine, a beef dish in red wine sauce served with flaky pastry, and creme brulé for dessert. (I can't resist a creme brulé.) I chose an amazing Riesling Kabbinet from the "by the glass" menu, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I would have ordered a second glass if I hadn't begun feeling the fatigue of the day.

The service was absolutely fantastic, the atmosphere was wonderful, and it was overall a great experience. I was really happy I went.

And then I walked to the Broadhurst Theatre, to see Equus.

I sat in the third row.

This is one of those live theatre experiences that I'll be thinking about for a long, long time. The story is so compelling. A 17-year-old boy who works in a stable on the weekends suddenly and brutally attacks the horses one night, blinding six of them. The play follows child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (played by Richard Griffiths, who played Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter movies) as he works with the boy, Allan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe), to determine the reason behind the violent attack, and the events leading up to it. It's like a detective story of the mind... and it was captivating. Radcliffe's performance was incredibly brave, honest, raw, and at times really funny. The entire cast was fantastic - it included Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Janeway) and Caroline McCormick (Dr. Olivet on Law and Order). It was amazing.

Daniel Radcliffe is a brilliant actor - I've believed this since seeing him at 11 years old in the first Harry Potter movie. And it was really wonderful to have that feeling validated, watching him in this very challenging role (the kind that if you play it wrong, it's oh, so very wrong) and seeing him do a phenomenal job. Frankly, it was great to see him as something other than Harry Potter. He's amazing, folks. He'll be the actor of his generation, mark my words.

The set was really minimalist, and there were hardly any props, but the play and its actors were so engaging that it didn't seem that way. Everything seemed so very real.

I bought a very special poster as a souvenir... I won't tell you (or anyone) how much I spent on it. But all the money went to Broadway Cares, an organization that supports people living with AIDS (particularly New York actors). It's an Equus show poster with the signatures of the entire cast. They were doing the last night of a big fundraiser, and they auctioned off an Equus t-shirt worn by Daniel Radcliffe (he did his best to sweat in it, he said). There was some great curtain call banter - he was funny, gracious and charming.

I stayed by the stage door to see if I could also get my playbill signed, but the crowds were thick and there was no chance to get closer. Daniel Radcliffe did sign playbills, though. But when someone asked me, "So, who is going to come out that door?" and I realized that some of the crowd were random people who were lining up because other people were lining up, I suddenly didn't want to be there. I walked back to my little studio apartment, satisfied with my poster.

Sunday morning, I got up early. I stopped at a little place near the apartment for a smoothie (I felt the need for fruit) and a croissant. I stashed the croissant in my purse for later, and headed for 5th Avenue, smoothie in (rather cold) hand. I took photos of a relatively empty Times Square, and stopped at the Rockefeller Centre to see the skating rink and the tree. Times Square may have been empty, but Rockefeller Centre was not. Skating was in full force, with a line-up getting longer by the minute. The tree was beautiful, but not terribly dramatic in the day time, so I vowed to come back for some photos that evening before hitting Top of the Rock.

Rockefeller Centre

The Christmas decorations along Fifth Avenue are pretty surreal. Some of the stores have really elaborate displays - Bergdorf Goodman took my breath away. They have two buildings, one on either side of the street. The men's store featured male mannequins with the heads of various animals doing manly type things, in stylish clothes. Wolves playing pool. Polar bears boxing. Rams skiing. The women's side was based on the four seasons, but all the windows contained white objects. The detail was incredible. Harry Winston was decorated with simple elegance - evergreen and roses.

Harry Winston

Bergdorf Goodman Windows

Then I arrived at my planned destination. I found a like-minded soul, a conversation was quickly struck up, and we were soon sharing my croissant and taking photos of each other having... breakfast at Tiffany's. Thirteen years ago, I took the same photo, but this time it was in focus. :)

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I walked back along 6th Avenue, got my luggage from the apartment, and brought it back to the location on 41st. Bribed another doorman, and hopped in a cab to Strawberry Fields.

I spent some time at Strawberry Fields, and then went to The Dakota and had a moment there for Jay. Humming "Imagine," I headed into Central Park.

The Dakota

Strawberry Fields

If I lived in New York City, I'd be in Central Park all the time. There is some new treasure around every corner - a statue, a vista - it's beautiful and charming. There were so many things I wanted to see, and I only saw a fraction of them. You could spend a week exploring all the different areas. My photos are the best record of my trek through the park - Bethesda Terrace was more beautiful than I imagined, and I came across Mother Goose totally by accident. But I hunted for a particular statue, and was rewarded richly when I found it... Alice in Wonderland. I could have taken hundreds of shots of that statue... it's designed specifically for children to climb, and there are so many little details.

Alice II

I rested my legs at Belvedere Castle, and enjoyed the view. From atop the castle, I caught sight of Cleopatra's needle, and had a flashback to the last time I was in New York City. It was my Grade 12 trip. I was 17. Megan W. and I stood beneath the largest phallic symbol in Central Park with our mouths wide open. *grin*

Cleopatra's Needle 

Cleopatra's Needle is right by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At this point, it was about 12:30, I was getting hungry, was feeling pretty cold, and wasn't entirely sure how I was going to spend the next five hours until I had to be at Top of the Rock. So I went in.

Metropolitain Museum of Art

I had to be pretty picky about what I would make time to see - the museum is enormous, and you could easily spend three full days there and still not see everything. When I came to the museum at 17, I was forced to take a tour of the Egyptian wing, which didn't interest me all that much, and then given... wait for it... 20 minutes of free time to explore the museum. Good grief. I nearly cried. My friend Sally grabbed my hand and said, "We have a choice. We can go see one thing and spend a lot of time there, or we can run and see as much as possible." We chose to run. And in the frenzied 20 minutes that followed, I have two distinct memories: Monet's Water Lilies and a particular work by Edgar Degas.

I'm really drawn to Academic Classicism and Impressionism, and I have a background in Classics. So it made sense that I decided to spend this visit in the 19th century galleries, with a wander through the Greek and Roman sculpture gallery.
I took photos of any pieces where I spent more than a couple of minutes. There were two works that really affected me.

The first was that same work by Edgar Degas - the sculpture of the Little 14-Year-Old Dancer. I had to stop in the doorway to the gallery where she was standing. The security guard raised in eyebrow at me, and I told her, "I've been waiting to see her again for 13 years." The guard smiled and said, "Welcome home."

I spent a long time in that room with her. There's something about her that touches me - I can't describe it, and I can't explain it. She stands with her chin held high, her hands behind her back, her chest puffed out... and it's beautiful and brave and I love her.

La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans

The second work of art that really resonated with me was a statue I'd never seen before. It was in the Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery - an over-sized sculpture of Sappho with her lyre. I was struck by her face - so beautiful, but also quite masculine. Also, she's reclining, but there is a such tension in her body. Her hands, clutching her robe... her toes, curled upwards in her sandals. The whole thing was really intriguing. I kept wandering away to see other statues, and then coming back to her. A security guard smiled at me and said, "You really like her, don't you?" He asked what it was about her that I found so interesting. We had a nice discussion. I asked him if I could take her home with me, and he laughed. "If you can get her out of the museum, she's yours."


I ate lunch in the museum cafeteria, which was pretty darn nice. I went with the hot lunch of chicken breast, rice and veggies and was completely stunned by the size of the piece of chicken. I don't know if this was some kind of freakish gargantuan New York chicken or what the deal was, but it was enormous. At least 10 ounces of chicken. Seriously. I ate less than a quarter of it. It felt criminal, but there was no way I could eat it all.  

There were a few shops in Midtown that I wanted to visit before my ticket time at Top of the Rock. I had planned to take a cab back to Midtown, but ended up walking along 5th Avenue the whole way. At this point, my feet were getting pretty weary, and the temperature was dropping. Also, the wind was picking up.

I wanted to go to FAO Schwartz to find something for Bundy. I pictured myself walking in and saying, "Please direct me to your Star Wars section..." and being struck dumb by the selection. But it was not to be. There was a line all around the block to get into the store. I didn't even want to think about the line to pay for something. So I wandered on.

Line Up to Get Into FAO Schwartz

I'd been planning on spending a chunk of time at FAO Schwartz, so I had some time to kill. I slipped into Trump Tower (I saw the sign for Starbucks, and it was like an oasis in a cold, cold desert), waited 10 minutes in line for a latte, and then pretty much had to kill someone to find a chair. I took off my coat and rested my feet for a bit.

Trump Tower

It was getting dark, so I decided to see if I could get into Top of the Rock a bit early.
It turned out to be no problem at all, which was great since I ended up spending about an hour up there. There are three observation decks, but the third was closed due to high winds.

The story of the building of the Rockefeller Centre is really something. This was the highest skyscraper of its era, built during The Great Depression. The architecture resonates with the values of progress and humanity's ability to overcome. That that iconic photo of the workers eating lunch on the beam high over New York City gets me every time.

Tree at Rockefeller Centre

Photography was a challenge. I wasn't allowed to set up the big tripod, but I could set up the little gorllapod. The problem was that there wasn't anything onto which I could rest the gorillapod that wasn't shaking with the force of the winds. All photos - inside and out - were through glass. Even the windows to the inside were vibrating due to the wind.

So my shots aren't great. I have some longer exposure ones that I should process and post, but the vibration makes them a bit blurry. Still, the view was incredible. It was amazing to look over the city and see ALL of Central Park laid out before me. (You could tell it was Central Park, it was this big patch of land that was barely lit.) And there are two things Top of the Rock has that the Empire State Building doesn't... less crowds and an awesome view of the Empire State Building. :)

Empire State - Taken at Top of the Rock

By the time I got back down, it was 6pm and I was hungry. I'd decided early on that I'd try and eat at a place called Cosi's. The website advertised a "cosy" place, with a fireplace and food cooked in an open fire oven. It wasn't quite what I expected - it was really bright, super busy, felt kind of cafeteria-esque, table service only started at 5pm (otherwise, it was counter service) and there was no open flame in sight.

But, the food was ok, and the desert was AWESOME. You can order 'smores. They bring you a tray with marshmallows, a Hershey bar, graham crackers, skewers and a little bowl of flammable gel. The server lights it up - wooof! - and you can roast your marshmallows. Unreal. And very, very tasty. 'Smores come in servings for two people, so I shared mine with two little girls at a nearby table. Deelish.

Smores at Cosi

And at this point, it was about time to walk to my luggage and head to the bus station. I took photos as I walked.

Times Square

I'm glad I headed for the bus when did - the line for the 9 pm bus to Montreal was quite long, even at 7:45 pm. I didn't make it on to the first bus. The second bus wasn't ready to go until 9:30 pm, and it became clear that the driver had never done the route to Montreal. The woman next to me kept getting up to go to the front to give him directions, which was good, but every time she'd get up she's lurch herself forward and clutch the seat in front of her. The girl ahead of her kept staring daggers back her way.

I managed to sleep as best I could, but there was a 20 minute stop in Albany for refueling, and then a long stop at customs where we had to take all luggage off the bus and we couldn't board again until everyone had gone through.

By the time I got to Montreal, I was sore and tired of traveling. I cabbed home from the bus station, and was sitting in a piping hot bath by 9:30 am. By 10:00 am, I was curled up in bed, dreaming sweet dreams of New York City.

View from Belvedere Castle

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