Saturday, 31 December 2011

Doing New York -- day 4

Are you still with me? Thanks so much for your comments about New York -- I know it's a bit much to draw it out for such a long time, but it would take so long to record the whole trip in one go. I'm late posting again today as I've been finishing off some Thank You card designs to be sent to relatives.

So, on our Tuesday in New York, we began by trying to offset the badness of the previous day with a healthy breakfast. I had oatmeal with berries and a smoothie. Not impressed! Once I had eaten the meagre scattering of berries, the porridge was bland and tasteless. I only like porridge as a carrier for, erm, cream, butter, brown sugar, strawberries, etc, etc. The smoothie was not a smoothie in my book but a slushy! Nasty icy thing. Let's face it, I'm just not a naturally healthy eater. I blame my granny on my dad's side (who I also seem to be starting to resemble physically, which perhaps shouldn't come as any surprise but it is rather unnerving) -- who worked in the baking bit of a baker's shop and was hardly ever not making a cake at any time of night or day.
A nice big picture of the Statue of Liberty to stop the cake rot
Yes, it was more airport-style security in Battery Park in order to board a small boat to go out to Ellis Island. When you are being herded through a shed in your stockinged feet with your coat and belt and belongings in a plastic box you start to wonder if it's really worth it. But a person at work who I respect very much (a History professor) had told me he had wept at Ellis Island to see the touching belongings of the immigrants, and so I very much wanted to go there. All the time that we'd been in New York I had been reading Vol 3 of The Emigrants, Vilhelm Moberg's incredible 4-volume sequence about Swedish emigrants who went to America in 1850. I love these books so much and will be bereft when I reach the end (Vol 4 is on its way from Amazon as I type this). Reading this book also heightened my sense of expectation about visiting the point of entry for 12 million immigrants to the United States.
Ellis Island
We chugged past the Statue of Liberty (you can't help but be moved by it -- Liberty seems lonely out there in the water). Before long we had arrived at Ellis Island, me trying to imagine I was Kristina Nilsson, pregnant, sick, struggling with three small children and a huge Swedish chest, as I arrived in America after a three-month journey on a filthy ship.
Immigrants' trunks in the entrance of Ellis Island museum
The museum was surprisingly serious, absolutely no dumbing down of this subject which is so significant in America's history. There were an awful lot of boards to read and a massive amount of information to ingest. I decided to try to follow a Swedish thread through it all.
A Swedish immigrant family c 1860s
The vaulted reception hall at Ellis Island
The elders of a Swedish immigrant community with their new church
The cabinets of objects brought into America by immigrants were on the third floor. We made our way up there and I prepared to be touched by them -- I wanted to be touched! Sadly, I remained unmoved, probably because you can't really set yourself up for emotion in that way. Lord knows I cry easily enough (Joe and Pip's final hug on Great Expectations earlier this week...) but it wasn't happening this time.
the view of Manhattan from the boat
We sailed back to the city on the next boat and went for lunch at the famous Oyster restaurant underneath Grand Central Station. The station itself is a treat, with its vast hall, mirroring the hall at Ellis Island in a way.
Grand Central Station
The restaurant was fantastic, one of those down-to-earth places that serve great food without making much of a fuss about it. The menu was incredible, with oysters (ugh!), fish and scallops from all over America. We had scallops with fries and creamed spinach. The scallops were huge, about three or four times bigger than the ones you usually get in the UK. And we ordered far too much spinach! When will we learn?
The Oyster restaurant
You may have been wondering where the art was in this New York trip. Somehow, it all got bunched up at the end and now it began, with the wonderful spirally Guggenheim. When we got there, I was suddenly strongly put in mind of my Mum, who visited New York on her own in the Eighties. I remember her telling me how much she loved going to the Guggenheim, but that she'd been dying to borrow one of their wheelchairs, ride in the lift to the top of the spiral and let gravity whizz her all the way down.
This time, all the art had been removed from the gallery walls and the entire space within the spiral was given over to a massive retrospective of the work of Maurizio Cattelan. I just can't pretend that I was really aware of his work before I saw this show, but I certainly am now. The visual impact of the mass of objects strung up on ropes was amazing.

What I finally understood was that this wasn't some one-off installation -- or rather, it was, but each element of the installation was a re-creation of an earlier work by Cattelan, but now treated in this 'disrespectful' way, strung up, competing for attention with the mass of other objects. So it was a retrospective, giving a full overview of the artist's work to date, but it also had its own impact, undermining the seriousness of a gallery space like the Guggenheim, and also, to me, suggesting the artist's own 'head space' crowded with ideas and memories. It was fantastic, anyway.
Rock of Ages
That evening we went to see the musical Rock of Ages, which was fun (it's about 80s rock music, but also very sweet and pantomimey with a timeless, nay, almost Shakespearean, love story). It worried me that most of the people sitting around us in the stalls didn't seem to speak English, and they were a little bit slow to warm up, but by the end of Act 2, led on by a few dedicated rock 'dudes and dudettes' (ladies, those pumping fists became just a little tiresome after an hour and a half...), plenty of them were dancing in the aisles in the finale. A weird thing was that hunky male usherettes (? ushers?) sold drinks right the way through the performance, but it didn't really distract too much.

Come back tomorrow for MOMA and M&M World...

Friday, 30 December 2011

Doing New York -- day 3

Sorry that today's bit about New York is so late. I've been to London, at last, to see the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum.
The British Museum, a great British institution
 I was very taken by the exhibition and could certainly understand why I've read so many enthusiastic reports of it on various blogs I follow. I loved the exuberant mixing of cultures in the objects Grayson had selected, and the artworks he'd been inspired to make were incredible. In recent years I haven't been that taken with the logo-filled tapestries he's been doing, the brand-name Bayeuxs, but somehow the pieces in this show seemed more visceral, with a real connection to the artist. I particularly liked the skull with all the English symbols embedded in it, and the cast iron 'Parents' figures with their massive burdens.
Pilgrimage to the British Museum by Grayson Perry
But I must get back to New York while it's still fresh in my mind...
Lollipops in Dylan's Candy Bar
So, Monday morning found us getting a sugar rush in the giant pop-up store for Dylan's Candy Bar, even before we'd had breakfast. The day was fast turning into a kitschfest as we breakfasted on 'egg, sausage and cheese biscuits' at 'Tim Horton's Cake and Bake', followed by the best doughnut EVER, just oozing jammy gunge.
The lobby of the Empire State Building
We'd set aside the morning to go to the top of the Empire State Building, which was something the kids specially wanted to do. We hadn't bargained on the airport-style security and the endless queues. It took a very long time before we were in the lift and swooshing up to the 86th floor.
One of the million photos we took -- you can see the Chrysler Building in this one
Up there it was very very cold and windy. I was very surprised to see one or two pigeons landing on the parapets -- I would have expected them to stay down nearer the ground. We listened to 'Tony', a native New Yorker, giving us the lowdown on everything we could see, on the audio guide. There was a definite air of defiance and patriotism in the recording, post 9/11 -- the Twin Towers might have gone but the Empire State Building was standing proud. No wonder the security was so stringent.
The view south towards the financial district
Back down to earth again, we walked to Bryant Park where there was a Christmas market. Continuing the day's healthy theme, we had cheese and ham crepes and almond-flavoured hot chocolate, sitting on the comfy seats out in the open. We watched the brisk sales at a pickle stall, Pickle Me Pete. People's faces were lighting up as they spied the pickle man, and they would buy a huge gherkin to eat like a lolly!
 There was ice-skating in Bryant Park as well. It was very relaxed and pretty. The holiday spirit was really building up.
Christmassy fast-food van
 We just wandered up Fifth Avenue again, taking in Radio City and Abercrombie and Fitch where a certain person had been promised a hoody for Christmas.
When we had entered the US two days previously and were having our retinas photographed and our fingerprints taken digitally (at least I think that's what was going on), the US Marshal on the desk, oblivious to the massive queue waiting to come through immigration, had chatted to us for far too long -- we didn't want to displease him so we just smiled and nodded -- but he told us that 'the best show in town' was the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City. There were crowds of people going inside to see it as we passed, but as far as we could tell it was very oldfashioned with the Rockettes dancing girls the chief selling point. So we just kept on walking until I virtually had to be airlifted back to the hotel.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Doing New York -- day 2

Day Two of our New York visit found us heading, first of all, to the Antiques Garage (at 112 W 25th Street), a long-established fleamarket.

We had researched fleamarkets before we left the UK, and had a list of six different ones, but in the end we just went to this one as raking through piles of old stuff is not really the kids' idea of fun. (Wish we'd gone to the Hell's Kitchen one, apparently the best.)

I was thrilled with the things I bought. A colour chart to add to my collection. I love colour charts SO much!
A children's picture. I like the animals on the frame.
And some little toy watches.

Having just googled the Antiques Garage, I discover that it's venerable and also under threat. Apparently it was the first fleamarket to spring up in Chelsea and was then followed by hundreds more, filling four blocks (four blocks!) with tat-vendors. Imagine that. According to this article, Andy Warhol, Susan Sontag and Greta Garbo once paced the stalls! But soon the Garage will make way for a hotel, which is a great shame.    
     There's a show on American TV, of which I've only seen a short clip, called Oddities. It's a reality show set in a real-life New York fleamarket, Obscura Antiques and Oddities, in the East Village. What I wouldn't give to be able to watch this show!
Oddities window

Well, that was me pretty much done, in terms of buying things in New York. I wasn't so interested in the fancy new stuff.
George Tilyou, who built the Steeplechase at Coney Island, also made the iconic Funny Face
But the best was still to come. We hopped onto the N Train, which took us all the way to Coney Island. Ever since I found this little image online, having no idea what it was, and then found out that it was the Parachute Drop at Coney Island, I've been obsessed with the place.

My little screenprint of the Drop
I've frequently 'visited' Coney Island on Google Earth. Here, for example, is the Coney Island Museum:
The Google car seems to have visited Coney Island on a particularly grim day
I could scarcely believe I was now about to stand on Surf Avenue for real. And on an absolutely beautiful cold bright winter's day.
I'm here, I'm actually here!
We had fixed up to have a guided tour and our guide, Danny McDermott, met us outside the museum. See the bottom of the page on this link for more info, if you're interested. Danny was a lovely chap and although the whole place felt very benign and safe, it was more relaxing to be in someone else's hands and who could show us everything there was to see.
We saw the wooden Cyclone rollercoaster. Did Danny say this was the first rollercoaster in the world?
We saw this beautiful old restaurant where the diners ate under the stars on the roof terrace. For a while the building was resurrected as a rollerskating rink by local entrepreneur Lola Star, but it's closed now. We met Lola Star in her souvenir shop!
lovely Lola

Details of the interior of Lola's shop
Yes, we got the t-shirts. I think Danny was on a one-man mission to boost Coney Island's businesses in the slow season when the rides are shut as he also took us into the sweet store and to Nathan's Famous, the first fast-food outlet In The World, where we all had to have a chilli dog -- the less said about the chilli dog the better... I'm sure Danny said that Eddy Cantor and Jimmy Durante worked here, but I've probably got that wrong. It has a glittering history, if hot dogs can glitter...
We walked along the boardwalk, past the shuttered food outlets.
Then we got the best view ever of the Parachute Drop, shining in the sun.
We went down onto the beach and I picked up a piece of driftwood that I'm going to paint on.
We saw the corner where Scarface got his scar. We went on the pier and saw the fishermen. We saw the place where the Polar Bear Club members run into the sea on icy winters' days. It was all wonderful. I love the happy-sad feeling of rundown pleasure grounds.
Come back tomorrow for candy, pickles and the Empire State Building...