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We had a wonderful trip to New York City. Although I was enthusiastic beforehand, I have to say that many of my assumptions were turned upside-down. Yes, the Big Apple is a bustling town, but the stress level appears to be surprisingly low; and it seems to be a city very much content with itself (and for many good reasons — see below), which from my experience is in sharp contrast with Vancouver. Following are a few notes about some of the highlights.
(I have some pictures which I may post later, but for the most part you will find those at the sites linked to below to be superior.)
I was very happy with the diversity and quality of these live events.
Terence Blanchard at the Jazz Standard. One of the real high points in a trip full of them. His band — Brice Winston, tenor saxophone; Fabian Almazan, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums — was amazing. Most of the compositions were from Blanchard’s CD A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), which we picked up at the club.
The Mind’s Eye: Oliver Sacks interviewed by Robert Krulwich of NPR. Didn’t know about this event until we were in the city, but managed to pick up tickets via craigslist. I’ve always loved his books — I recently read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain — and the interview was in much the same casual story format, though one of the main cases examined was Sacks himself; he has recently lost vision in one eye. A lovely and learned and fascinating person.
The Late Show with David Letterman (Monday, June 2 show, taped that afternoon), with guests Adam Sandler, Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, and Donna Summer. I watched Late Night with David Letterman way back when I worked at Cooper’s during high school. It was a lot of fun to be part of the studio audience. Paul Shaffer‘s band, which performed a couple of tunes before the taping started, is even better than it sounds on television.
American Ballet Theatre Twyla Tharp World Premiere: Rabbit and Rogue. The New York Times review was scathing, but it is all relative; a great company, and it was amazing just to be at the Metropolitan Opera House: what a room!
If — when — I get back to the city, I think I am going to spend most of my time at these museums.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Absolutely, unbelievably, overwhelmingly overwhelming and astonishing. One could spend an entire holiday, if not lifetime, in this building’s 1.5 million square feet. Just the artifacts from ancient Egypt (one of my boyhood obsesssions) number 36,000! I had to race through Greek and Roman art, modern art, and musical instruments, among many others. Also amazing was The Cloisters, the medieval art department in northern Manhattan. Your day pass covers both, which is a bit pointless, particularly considering the travel time between the buildings. Bought the guide, which barely skims the surface of the place. I don’t think the fascination of these museums can be overstated.
MoMA: the building is great, and just seeing Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is worth the price of admission, but all of the painting and sculpture galleries are fabulous. The architecture and design galleries were also great, and a few notable current exhibits included Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now, George Lois: The Esquire Covers, and Bernd and Hilla Becher: Landscape/Typology.
Museum of Natural History. Memories of this museum have perhaps been overshadowed by some of the others attended later in the trip, but it is an amazing compendium of permanent exhibits and special installations (Water: H2O = Life) on the natural world. The planetarium isn’t significantly different from H.R. Macmillan, and the IMAX film (Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure Movie) was lame; best to focus on the museum exhibits here.
Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately, there was an exterior restoration underway, so a major part of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s building was not visible. The exhibit was Cai Guo-Qiang‘s I Want to Believe, which in its early stages up the interior ramp of the building was disappointing (Head On wolves; Inopportune: Stage One cars). But I loved his gunpowder paintings and New York Rent Collection Courtyard.
Much of the standard stuff: Empire State Building; walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; Circle Lines semi-circle tour; Rockerfeller Center; Ground Zero (disappointing that there was a $15 charge for the visitor’s centre, which we skipped).
Highlights were the United Nations tour (I hadn’t known previously about the decolonization organization) and Central Park, particularly the Pond, Bow Bridge, and the Mall. Strawberry Fields brought back memories of that day in December 1980; we stayed just a block from The Dakota.
Almost incomprehensibly, Vancouver has no vegan restaurants, and no vegetarian restaurants that aren’t flaky and/or cafeteria-like (Greens and Gourmet) and/or just plain dirty (Cafe Deux Soleil) and/or with rotten service or food (The Naam). (Also, why is there an apparent fear of seitan in Vancouver?) So, it was a treat to be in a more enlightened city, and we spent way too much eating out; we went to some of these restaurants multiple times: Candle 79 (our favourite) and Candle Café, Blossom and Café Blossom (where we had our sole brush with greatness: Isabella Rosselini), Hangawi, Gobo, Angelica Kitchen. Honourable mention: H and H Bagels.
Visited a number of neighbourhoods around the city: Greenwich Village (East Village, West Village), Soho, Chelsea (galleries), Flatiron, Midtown, Upper West Side (where we stayed at 33 West 71st Street), Upper East Side, and a brief walk around Harlem. I could probably live in any of them.
Didn’t do much shopping, but made pilgrimmages to Moo Shoes and the Apple Store Fifth Avenue. Also had a drink with old internet buddy and popular music fan extraordinaire Shirish Huprikar, who first introduced me to Wilco and Joe Henry.
Wanting to clear out some old possessions recently I came across my train set. This was a Tri-ang Hornby “00” gauge set I got when I was quite young, around 1969. I got it out about fifteen years ago for my daughter, and haven’t looked at it since. I was considering what to do with it, and — no surprise — found that there are enthusiasts all over the Web. I posted a few shots and descriptions and sent it out to a few of the clubs and keeners. It will be interesting to see if it’s worth much of anything to someone.
It was an experience going through the boxes and looking at these toys. It brought back clear memories from over thirty years ago. I had a lot of fun with the trains and, in retrospect, can see that my bias towards creating track layouts and station configurations, rather than actually operating the trains themselves, predicted the kind of work I would do later in life.
I could hardly believe I was reading this when it came through on RSS today: Post-9/11 U.S. is safer but ‘not yet safe’. A White House “report” says that “since the Sept. 11 attacks, America is safer, but we are not yet safe.” In other words, “we are doing a great job, but you should continue to be scared and let us do whatever we think we need to do.” Of course, the U.S. is arguably less safe now than it was five years ago. But there is no counterpoint in the story, no analysis. The White House statement is reproduced without comment or question. What has happened to the CBC? Are news rooms now simply filled with people converting incoming press releases to HTML and scripts for the evening news?