West Side Story

Sorry for the delay – flight and tiredness.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at a diner, which was good and relatively cheap. Rick then went to do the Greatest Hits of MoMA, while I visited their Design Shop.

The tour began with a wild ride in Boston (though that was Paul Revere’s, not ours), and ended with one in New York.

Our shuttle to the airport arrived about 10 minutes late, but the traffic was bad, and there was a parade on Avenue of the Americas. After 35 minutes of picking up other passengers (all on the West Side), we were still only 5 minutes’ walk from our hotel. When the driver saw a space ahead, he would race to fill it, sending pedestrians and cyclists flying, and later on the highway almost railroading a car into a wall. As if this was not exciting enough, it rained for 10 minutes, and several roads round the airport were flooded.

Rick alighted at Terminal 5, where we said our goodbyes, and I went to Terminal 4, where I had a very long wait. At our departure time, we began to taxi, and taxi, and taxi – for 70 minutes, with a squalling baby for entertainment (I thought we were just going to drive across the Atlantic). We arrived in London only 5 minutes late, however.

[This reminded me of something I once read about the vast (52 square miles) Denver International Airport. After landing, and taxiing for 10 minutes, the pilot addressed the passengers: ‘Any of you guys see anything that looks like an airport out there?’]

I was through Immigration in no time (why are passport scanners so difficult to use?), glad I wasn’t in the incredibly long line for non-EU people. Back to the car, with no problems, and I was home by 10:15.

Thanks, as always, to Rick for his constant driving – he said he’d be bored if I was driving (clearly a long time since he’s experienced that).

Thanks also to Google Maps, without which we’d still be going round a traffic circle in Augusta.

Pictures : 1) A building which apparently was used in a Spider-Man movie, 2) Times Square, and 3) in the Met, a cast of Rodin’s Les bourgeois de Calais – I’ve now seen five: New York, Pasadena, London, Washington DC, and … Calais.


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MoMA mia

This morning we woke to torrential rain and thunder.

Fortunately, by the time we’d had the hotel breakfast, it had stopped, and I went out to the Museum of Modern Art, only four blocks away. It was packed, and because of the hanging, difficult to negotiate. Since the paintings are in logical groups (of style, etc) many of the most famous ones are close together, and surrounded by hordes of photographers. Van Gogh’s Starry Night is near Rousseau’s The Dream, and The Sleeping Gipsy, so you can’t see any of them very well. Lower floors (Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock et al) were quieter. There was a show of Dream Cities, models by the architect Bodys Isek Kingelez, of whom I’d never heard, which were bright and engaging – enormous fun to live in, I would think.

After a couple of enjoyable hours there, I went to Saks Fifth Avenue, where I toured the expensive menswear department without buying anything, then went through a few drops of rain to Barnes and Noble, where I also bought nothing. What self-discipline!

I went as far as 42nd Street, and came back to the hotel via Times Square, with rain threatening just as I reached the last block.

Pictures: 1) One of Kingelez’s cities, 2) A late painting by Sol LeWitt, 3) St Patrick’s Cathedral (a close copy of a photo I took in 1982 (probably)), 4) Chrysler Building.

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“Oh, I thought you were seeing a musical…”

[Liz Smith, “The Royle Family”]

Another trip down Memory Lane, where I saw “Cats” in 1984. It was still the original cast, and still completely sold out. But when I approached the box office just ten minutes before curtain and plaintively asked if anything was available (expecting a guffaw laced with a Bronx cheer), the woman astounded me by saying, “One left, back of the balcony, obstructed view. So I’ll give it to you for half price.”

I almost passed out with joy.

Turns out she was understating about the obstruction: I was directly behind a pillar, and could only see maybe half the stage, if that. So some of the musical numbers I only heard, not saw. But I didn’t care — just being there hearing the same people from the Broadway cast album (which I had played over and over) was thrilling enough.

And for $25, it’s the best — and perhaps only — New York bargain I’ve ever had.

Monet, Manet, Monet

Last night’s pizza for two came to $110 – well, there were other items too. It was extremely good.

Today I walked from 52nd St to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Broadway and through Central Park – it wasn’t too warm and it took less than an hour, even though I had to wait for people to climb off the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party sculpture. There are statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott facing each other across a wide path.

The museum is vast, so I selected some small areas; paintings, mainly impressionists; American art, including a whole room from a house Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Minnesota; and Egyptian, which includes the Temple of Dendur. There are many interesting and famous paintings: Washington Crossing the Delaware River; Juan de Pareja by Velázquez; a sketch for Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon.

I spent three hours there, and was worn out – I looked at the various food outlets, but even a tiny sandwich was $15 in the ‘cheap’ restaurant.

I walked back down 5th Avenue, deviating to Barney’s on Madison, and Bloomingdale’s on Lexington, but failed to buy anything in either. Fortunately Uniqlo was on 5th, on my way back to the hotel.

Rick took some photos near the hotel, and just generally wandered around, I think.

Pictures: 1) Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, 2) Washington Crossing the Delaware (great story, if you don’t know it), 3) Alexander Hmilton, by Trumbull, 4) Temple of Dendur, and 5) a building that Rick calls ‘The Death Star’.

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Hyde Park

This morning began with a tour through central Poughkeepsie. First we passed the famous Vassar College, and then found ourselves in downtown, which, shall we say, looked a bit Wire-y, so we decided not to stop. We also forwent the pedestrian bridge across the Hudson: too long, and the weather was too hot and humid.

And so we found ourselves in Roosevelt country: first Val-Kill, the house where Eleanor Roosevelt spent her last year’s (badly timed for a tour, as usual), then Franklin D Roosevelt’s home and library overlooking the Hudson Valley. Interesting as it was, we didn’t have time for a tour, as our main aim was Hyde Park, a mansion of one of the Vanderbilt family. This we did see in detail, and it was very interesting: unlike Marble House in Newport, RI, it appeared to be somewhere one could live in – and it had lots of guest bedrooms. It wasn’t at all ostentatious.

And so we began the long drive to drop off the car at JFK, before our 3 days in New York City. Traffic was horrendous: it took an hour to do the last 10 miles. Then the taxi into Manhattan took more than an hour. But here we are in the Novotel, on West 52nd St: much more modern than Rick’s taste, but it suits me very well, even if I can’t get the clock to set to the right time.

Pictures: 1) Val-Kill, 2) FDR’s house, 3) Hyde Park, and 4) Possibly even more dishes than I possess.

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Even later than Joni

We had a quick walk around Saratoga Springs this morning: quite a pretty town. It’s famous for honeymoons, and horse racing, so we visited a track on the way out of town.

Next we stopped in Albany (failing to see the state capitol) at the Schuyler Mansion – unfortunately we arrived just too late for the 11am tour, and couldn’t wait for the noon one, so we only saw it from the outside. This was the home of the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton (you can’t pretend you’ve never heard of him – but I recommend Ron Chernow’s biography if you want to know more), and he and Eliza were married there. Much later, President Millard Fillmore was married in the same room.

A major detour followed: it was Rick’s lifelong ambition to see the site of the Woodstock Festival – not, of course, at Woodstock, but more than 50 miles away, near Bethel, a town which appears to be populated almost exclusively by Hassidic Jews (I even misread a sign which said ‘Rabbits for Sale’).

So, 48 years and 51 weeks later than Joni Mitchell, who famously did not attend the event but wrote the definitive song, we went to Woodstock. It’s on a big hillside, and the stage was at the bottom, and the whole event seems to have been chaotic – even the musical performances were apparently not that good (for example, it was Crosby, Stills and Nash’s second gig). There is a museum, which was extremely interesting and involving: lots of video and music to enjoy.

Now we are in a hotel near Poughkeepsie, deciding what to have for dinner.

Pictures: 1) Lawn jockeys outside the Racing Museum at Saratoga Springs (you kept one in your garden as a hitching post for visitors’ horses), 2) Schuyler Mansion in Albany, 3) Yasgur’s Farm, looking downhill towards the stage, and 4) The Woodstock Memorial (the stage is the area with little piles of rocks on it).

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Burlington, Vermont

We made an hour-long stop in Burlington to take a look around, and my camera decided it was more interesting than I did! The fact it was overcast that day didn’t help — it’s why I’m not posting any pictures of Lake Champlain, as you can’t see anything.

But my friend Judy, who was born and raised here, says that it’s really beautiful. I can imagine that on a clear day around sunrise, in the fall with all the colors painting the landscape, the lake is quite impressive.

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The Trapp Family Lodge

I managed to check off another box on my To Do Before I Die list: a visit to the von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.

I wanted to actually stay there, but they charge 5-star rates (almost as astronomical as higher end hotels in Manhattan), so I contented myself with a walkabout through the public areas, and a little souvenir from the gift shoppe — a miniature Trapp Family Brewery beer stein.

A charming inn straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie

This was our charming hotel in Stowe, the Green Mountain Inn on Main Street. The original house (the center section) was built in 1833, and in 1850 it was converted into an inn, and has been added onto over the next century. The oldest section still has its original pine plank floors.

We even had a fireplace in our room! But given it was almost 90 degrees outside at 85% humidity — AFTER the sun set, mind you — we were content just letting it be decorative.

David hated the fireplace, by the way. He demanded I turn off the faux-candle sconces on either side. He also hated the hotel itself. But on every trip I want to stay in at least one unique historical lodging, and not just the endless string of generic chain hotels we stay in otherwise. And as I promised, I limited it to just one night out of the 16 nights I booked on this trip.