N’York. (August/September 2015)


We drove into New York City at midday and went straight to Ev and Steph’s new apartment in East Harlem.

It was then time to return the car to Dollar Car Rental. Given the problems we had had in Seattle and the time it took to get a new contract and car – we feared the worst.

After presenting our heavily modified Thrifty contract to the Dollar staff, we were greeted with confused looks, lots of head shaking and eventually a smile of inevitability.

Everything was resolved and we were sent on our way.

I can’t help thinking that this wasn’t the first time this problem had occurred.

We had spent the last two months on the road, in rented cars. Then once we hit NYC we were on our feet.

We seemed to walk everywhere.

This was good and much needed exercise after all the time sitting on our bums.

One of our first tasks was to get a bed and a few essentials, so we headed for K-Mart. We had planned to stay with Ev and Steph, rather than a hotel so it was only fair to help them out and get what was needed. After all we were saving on a New York Hotel, which wouldn’t have been cheap.

On our first full day of site seeing we explored some of the parks, especially Central Park and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

Central Park was first opened in 1857 on 315 ha and in 1873 is was increased to its present size of 341 ha. It attracts about 37.5 million visitors each year, so we were not alone.

On 5th Avenue, very close to the eastern easter edge of the park, is the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. This day we just looked and took some external snaps. Built in 1959, this is one of Frank Lloyd Wrights masterpieces. We planned to come back and explore the museum further in a few days time.

Ev and Steph’s apartment was a stones-throw from the West 125 Street Metro Station. This was on the ‘A’ line which runs both north and south through Manhattan.

We had bought a Seven Day Metro Pass and headed south of Harlem into Downtown.

I was commenting to myself about the lack of buskers on the Metro, that quickly changed at the next station. A group of four middle aged African Americans hopped on and proceeded to croon the carriage. They weren’t that good and didn’t get much money but they did brighten up the subway ride.

Evan had tracked down some good coffee, so we headed to one of the Bluestone Cafes. This chain of Melbourne inspired cafes was started in 2013 by Nick Stone, an ex VFL player, banker and now coffee shop entrepreneur. Nick is hoping to have 6 or 7 of his Bluestone Cafes open by the end of 2015.

After a few days of exploring, we escaped Manhattan and boarded the Staten Island Ferry. Our main objective was to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty as we sailed past.

Back on the island we did more sight seeing, visiting the September Eleven Memorial and One World Tower. The last time I was in NYC was in 1986 and the World Trade Centre Towers were still standing. The September Eleven Memorial is a very poignant reminder of how much the world has changed since 2001.

The remainder of that day was spent exploring some of New York’s older architectural landmarks.

Some of my favorites were: the Manhattan Municipal Building (1914); Surrogate’s Court (1907); Emigrants Industrial Savings Bank (1912); the Chrysler Building (1930) and the neo-Gothic Woolworth Building (1913)

We then walked to Times Square and the famous neon signs. One particular LED display was an animated logo sequence for the Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M.

We completed our architectural jaunt with the Rockefeller Centre (1939) and the Art Deco General Electric Building (1933) in the Rockefeller Plaza.

I believe that it’s these early to mid 20th century buildings that really gives NYC its charm.

New York is a city full of tourists, even this late in the summer.

The one thing I have noticed, both in NY and in most other tourist destinations, is the scarcity of Single Lens Reflex Cameras (SLR).

Ten years ago most travellers carried an SLR or at least a small digital camera. Now it’s all smart phones, tablets or GoPros on a Selfie Stick. I can’t help but wonder if a smaller camera isn’t a better way to take my snaps, rather than schlepping 9 kg of camera gear around all day.

There is always an exception and that came from older Japanese gentlemen, who still maintain the tradition of toting around large SLRs with the accompanying big bag of accessories.

We had set aside the next day to visit the Guggenheim, but we hadn’t done our homework as it was closed.

Unperturbed we wandered down 5th Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, another venue that was high on our list of ‘must does’.

Many international luminaries of modern art were in this exhibition such as Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Miró and many more.

Plus there were the home-grown artists like Pollock, Warhol, Hopper and even Rockwell. Norman Rockwell (1894-!978) was a popular painter and illustrator who became famous with his reflections of American culture during the first half of the 20th century. For nearly 50 years his iconic illustrations could be found on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post.

Apart from the wonderful collection of art, the highlight for me was finding a 1937 Purma Special Camera in the industrial design exhibition. This was designed by Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) an American citizen who was born in France. It was manufactured by Thomas De La Rue and Beck for Purma Camera Limited, England from 1937 to 1951.

The reason for my excitement, was that I own one of these quirky old Bakelite models.

New York City consists of five boroughs or council areas. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

We had been to Staten Island so still had a few to go.

We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and walked into Brooklyn and then took a ferry ride up the East River from Brooklyn to Williamsburg.

Williamsburg is a neighbourhood of the borough of Brooklyn and sometimes referred to as ‘Little Berlin’ due to its large hipster culture. There is also a big music culture and it’s here that we found the Rough Trade Record store. Rough Trade originated in London in 1976 and specialises in post-punk but these days has a range of genres. The store in Williamsburg was opened in 2013 and is now one of the largest music stores in NYC.

We finally got to the Guggenheim Museum and stumbled into their current exhibition titled ‘Storylines’ This was a collection of over 100 works from the Guggenheim’s contemporary collection and themed under the idea of storytelling.

I must admit that I didn’t understand much of the exhibition.

It seemed to reflect a disjointed, almost fractured approach to art that uses many disciplines – all at the same time.

Much like contemporary adults and children who can text their friends, follow Facebook and ‘Google’ on their laptop, all while watching TV.

My biggest criticism of much of the work was that it lacked an aesthetic.

To my mind art should engage the audience and tell a story, but do it in a way that’s rewarding and artistically stimulating.

Apart from the art there’s the Guggenheim Museum’s architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the gallery with five floors, built in a seamless circular spiral, allowing the visitor to descend from the top floor via a gently sloping ramp. Wright was initially approached in 1943 to design the building but it took him 15 years to complete the project.

As with much of Wright’s other work, a repetitive theme appears. Not surprisingly in this case, it’s a circle.

This simple motif is seen throughout the gallery, which even includes the typography on the exterior of the building.

The High Line is a 2.33 km stretch of the disused New York Central Railroad. Similar in concept to the Promenade Plantée in Paris which we visited at the end of 2014, this aerial greenway is a wonderful way to get an elevated view of parts of NYC, along the Hudson River.

Along the way there are many art installations and attractions, such as Manhattan by Yutaka Sone and Spencer Finch’s “The River That Flows Both Ways’. This Window installation features coloured glass that is a symbolic representation of the Hudson River.

One of the last exhibits we discovered on the High Line was Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Collectivity Project’ This is a cityscape, made from white Lego, that is built and re built by the public.

On the Sunday all four of us had lunch at Cipriani Restaurant, Downtown, with Sean and Michele Cummins. This was a great opportunity to catch up with Sean and Michele since they moved to New York.

Sean has taken the brave step of setting up an ad agency in what must be one of the world’s toughest markets.

This Soho restaurant was very New York with great food and a multi national clientele. There was even a table of rather drunk Australians misbehaving in a corner.

We tried hard to avoid them.

On our last full day we visited the American Museum of Natural History. This is one of the world’s largest museums with over 32 million exhibits, covering the gambit of nature and all housed in 190,000 square metres of elegant classical architecture. Only a small percentage of the exhibits are on display at any given time.

Even so the exhibition is vast, so we restricted ourselves to a few areas and concentrated on North American animals and birds.

The Hall of North American Mammals was built in stages between 1936 and 1963. It was restored in 2011-12.

The dioramas all contain expertly painted backgrounds. These depict famous locations, such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and even the Devils Tower, at a particular season and time of day. This is accompanied by a story describing the action taking place within the scene.

The Hall of North American Birds is on a smaller scale and again features beautifully painted dioramas.

That night we had dinner at the Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village. Unfortunately it has the annoying practice of not taking reservations. This means you just turn up and wait.

Their specialty is gourmet burgers and the thinest shoestring fries I have ever seen.

Unfortunately the red wine was served cold, as was our waitress.

Apart from that if was great.

On our last morning in NYC we had brunch, then wandered around the Columbia University Campus. It was great to see where Stephanie will be studying for the next two years and get a first hand look at this highly regarded institution.

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