|THE BIG APPLE|
|MAJOR TRAFFIC ON NYC STREETS|
After leaving Connecticut, we had no problems driving into the heart of New York City, where we found the Hertz car rental office down a small alley up on the West Side. The thought of negotiating the mid-day traffic in Manhattan gave me heartburn even before we left California, although I knew we would be using a GPS. Now I'm wondering why I fretted so, since Bruce is excellent behind the wheel, and has experience driving into the heart of far more difficult cities, like Rome and Madrid. I guess I'll never forget how nervous I was as a passenger in New York, when my niece exceeded the city speed limit so she could make every green light on our drive downtown. During that escapade I held on tight and prayed we wouldn't crash into the Pan Am building when we approached the skyscraper at Park Avenue and 45th Street.
|MAJOR TRAFFIC ON NYC SIDEWALKS|
New York seemed different to us this time. For one thing people were friendly and helpful, not aloof and grumpy as I remember them. New Yorkers greeted us on the subway, and some even offered to help us find our way. Now that's a positive change. What stayed the same were how crazy and busy the streets are, and how everybody seems to be in such a hurry to get somewhere, walking faster than normal like they are already late. To avoid collisions, I dodged pedestrians who were gazing down at their mobile devices instead of looking where they were going. I squeezed through large groups of international tourists who persisted in walking four or five abreast and taking up the entire sidewalk. On the subway I was amused to see a mother holding the hand of her small child while using her reflection in the window to apply mascara and eyeliner.
|BUSY TIMES SQUARE|
Since we only booked five nights in the city, we wanted to see as much as we could and eat in some of the well-known restaurants we'd read about in The New York Times. Our hotel was located right near Grand Central Station, which gave us easy access to subway trains going in every direction. And speaking of subways, I was stunned to realize that since our last trip, I'd lost all of my skill and some of my bravado for traveling underground and relied solely on Bruce, whom I crowned the subway savant. I'm sure that if I were traveling solo, I'd pay closer attention and study the map, but on this trip I depended on Bruce's excellent navigating skills and sense of direction, while he relied on my unwavering enthusiasm and high energy to maintain the hectic pace we'd set for ourselves.
|NEW YORK SUBWAY|
Walking on cement sidewalks in New York is tough on feet, no matter how thick the soles of your shoes are. While we used the subway to go downtown and uptown every day, some days more than once, there was still a lot of walking on sidewalks in between. On foot we explored many landmark neighborhoods on Fifth and Park Avenues, checked out some of the designer boutiques in Soho, took a food and culture tour of Greenwich Village and bowed to the statue of George Washington on Wall Street.
|GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS INAUGURATED|
ON THESE STEPS OF THE FEDERAL BUILDING ON
While exploring Greenwich Village on this trip, I reminisced about a very special evening I experienced in the early 1980s. My two nieces, who were living in New York, invited me to join them and some of their friends at a bar in the Village, where many of the Broadway and Hollywood hopefuls hung out. At the time my now-successful actress niece, then a budding ingenue, had friends in their twenties eager to break into acting and secure a role in an on or off Broadway show. Late that night, after all the theaters had closed for the evening, we gathered in a smoky joint called The Pig. For someone who had spent all of her professional life in an academic setting, I was absolutely fascinated by the discussion that took place that evening, and what these aspiring actors had to say. They talked about plays they wanted to audition for, parts they thought were perfect for them, the possibility of landing a role in a prominent TV series, and eventually being cast in a movie. These were deep thinkers, not just dreamers, and I knew several would be famous some day. One of them was a charmer named Penn Jillett, a new kid in town, who, with his partner Teller, had a magic show off Broadway that people were beginning to talk about. Penn was born in a Massachusetts town very close to where my actress niece was raised, so besides both wanting a successful stage career, they shared New England roots. I remember thinking how enthralling that evening was, and how much I was learning from a special group of young people who were so committed and passionate about their craft.
|MY TWO NIECES AND ME, 2013|
One of our marathon walks on our August trip began in the Meat Packing District at the start of the New York Hi Line, an elevated freight rail line transformed into a park and beautifully landscaped public walkway. After devouring a delicious lobster roll at Chelsea Market, we walked the mile-long Hi Line, which is an excellent example of New York's desire to preserve and transform historical elements of the city that might otherwise be demolished. After walking the Hi Line, we continued on for several more hours back to our hotel, taking a detour to check out busy Penn Station and other interesting sights along the way.
|A VIEW FROM THE HI LINE (ENLARGED SO YOU CAN READ THE PARKING LOT SIGN)|
|CORNED BEEF - YUM!|
|A LONG LINE AT KATZ'S DELI|
|A MARIO BATALI RESTAURANT ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE|
I had a lump in my throat when we toured one of the historic houses that is part of the Tenement Museum, as I wondered if my dad lived in a tenement house when he emigrated from Greece to New York.
|A TYPICAL ROOM IN ONE OF THE HOUSES OF THE TENEMENT MUSEUM|
|GROUND ZERO MUSEUM WORKSHOP|
Bruce has the highest pain threshold for museums of anyone I know, except for maybe his sister, so we agreed that a day and a half at New York museums would make us both happy this time around. The rare Civil War Photography exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was intriguing, and I can never see enough Edward Hopper paintings, a famous few of which we saw at The Whitney. In the photo below, I am standing before a huge Jackson Pollock canvass that is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.
|EDWARD HOPPER'S SUMMER|
The best story from this visit was when we met a street vendor from Mali, who is now an American citizen with a license to sell African artifacts on the street in New York. We told him we had visited Mali for several weeks in 2008. He was excited to learn that we had spent time in his native city of Bamako and had visited the ancient city of Timbuktu and the nearby music festival in the Sahara Desert. We exchanged views on the current political and military turmoil in Mali. We really weren't serious when we asked him how much he wanted for an impressive bronze piece because it was very heavy and would be impossible for us to carry home to California. He said that the piece was from Benin in West Africa, and when he offered us what seemed like a very attractive price, we started thinking seriously about how we might get it home. He assured us that it could be safely wrapped and shipped to us for about $100, and said that if we gave him $100 cash now, he would take care of the shipping, and we could send him a check for the stated price after we received the piece in California. Since we did not have $100 cash on us, we weren't able to accept his offer. (We were also skeptical that we might just end up losing the $100.) Then he said, "Don't worry; I'll send the artifact by UPS, and when you receive it, you can send me a check for the cost of the piece plus $100 for the shipping." We were absolutely flabbergasted that a street vendor would ship one of his most valuable pieces to strangers in California without any money up front. He looked us in the eye and said, "I know good people when I meet them. After all, you've been to my country." We gave him our name and address, and he assured us that we would have the piece within five days. As we continued on our way, we talked about whether or not the vendor really intended to take that kind of risk, but we had nothing to lose since we were not out any money. Five days later a heavy box was delivered to our home in California by UPS. The bubble-wrapped artifact arrived in good condition. The next morning we sent a personal check for the full amount plus $100 shipping to this generous and trusting man, and now the beautiful artifact sits in a prominent place in our home.
|OUR NEW AFRICAN ARTIFACT IS NOW PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED IN|
Yes, New York is better than ever, and we're sure to go back without waiting another thirteen years.