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Posts Tagged ‘Bryant Park’

20 lessons New Yorkers learn

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you visited or lived in New York City?

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It’s a great place, but — oy!

The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.

You never know which city you’ll get.

After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:

— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.

— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit. There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.

– NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning),  and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station,  (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska),  and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.

– Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.

Here’s a heartbreaking story about a family whose 12-year-old son died this wayAnd a bicycle deliveryman. Four people were recently killed by vehicles in just one weekend.

— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)

— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)

— If you see a taut line of fishing wire atop lamp posts along certain streets, an eruv, it was placed there, at a cost of $100,000 by several Jewish congregations, for religious reasons.

— To enjoy the terrific skating rink erected for a few winter months in Bryant Park without being knocked down by people who can’t skate, get there as soon as it opens for the day. It has great music and an easy-to-reach midtown location. It’s also gorgeous at dusk as the city lights up all around it. I like it much better than the costly, tiny rink at Rockefeller Center or crowded Wollman Rink in Central Park.

— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!

– Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.

– Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.

– The suggested donation at the Metropolitan Museum really is only a suggestion, no matter how intimidating its full fare of $25. If you can muster the chutzpah, offer 25 cents or a dollar.

– Even the most mundane blocks offer fascinating bits of history. This midtown firehouse, on its upper stories, has deeply incised salamanders — which have a deep and historic link to fire. Isn’t it glorious?

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– The city has a few early cemeteries where you’d least expect to find them, like these three ancient Jewish graveyards, all within walking distance of downtown shops, homes and modern day offices. Bronx students recently found a possible slave burial ground.

– Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.

– You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.

Do you know about Manhattanhenge? Very cool!

– Museums charge a fortune, like $14 or $18 admission, but they all have a night of free admission.

– Here’s a terrific daily update of free/cheap/fun stuff to do in the city, The Skint, created by my friend Elizabeth who, natch, is also the lead singer in this amazing band playing 1920s tunes, The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel and Joe’s Pub.

You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!

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– There  is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)

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– New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.

Or…am I completely meshugannah?

Feel free to argue loudly. Hey, it’s what we do!

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Come play!

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, life, parenting, travel, urban life, US on January 5, 2013 at 12:11 am

I was walking through Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library at 42d and Fifth, on a glorious September afternoon when I saw a table piled high with board games, and a man and woman playing one I’d never seen before — Bananagrams, a word game that requires players to think really fast and make words with their letters. First one done, wins.

English: The game Bananagrams, showing pieces ...

English: The game Bananagrams, showing pieces and banana-shaped carrying container. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Can I play, too?” I asked. I hadn’t asked anyone that question in decades. The woman’s job was to wait for people to come along — and play, with her or with others, part of the park’s new initiative to make it even more welcoming.

“Sure. Have you ever played before?”

I hadn’t, but am a fairly decent/quick Scrabble player. Within minutes, we were laughing and hooting and shouting “Dump!” (turning in your letters for new ones) or “Peel!” forcing us to pick up another one.

The winner gets to shout “Bananas!”

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such free, spontaneous, joyful and social fun. In New York City, where status and power and owning costly real estate are the usual measures of human value, laughing my ass off with two smart strangers was the best.

It felt so good to be five again!

I love to play. Raised as an only child, trolls and Legos and stuffed animals were usually my companions. In boarding school (from the age of eight), every day and every hour was structured, lived by a schedule.

I love my work as a writer, but every word, literally, is worth money. I’ve bought groceries and gas and rent and clothes and acquired savings for decades — thanks to my ability to conjure up enough words, in the right order for the right people.

To simply play with words is a great luxury!

In my teens, I spent many evenings in front of the fire with my Dad, drinking tea and eating chocolate cookies, whipping one another at Scrabble — unless Jack, the big fat tabby cat, prowled right through the board, scattering our hard-won triumphs.

Scrabble game

Scrabble game (Photo credit: jcolman)

My weathered Scrabble board still bears the hand-written notations of my highest score, and my Mom’s — we played for hours while visiting Costa Rica and Fiji. On one of my trips west, to Victoria, B.C., where she now lives in a nursing home, she taught me to play gin rummy.

Before my left hip was destroyed by arthritis-plus-steroids in May 2009 — and has since been replaced — I played co-ed softball most Saturdays in a field near my home; here’s an essay I wrote about it for The New York Times. I plan to be back at it this year.

Our players are people who spend their worklives practicing law and medicine, singing at a synagogue, teaching high school, representing authors. Heavy responsibilities. There is something so deeply restorative in just playing, for its own sweet sake, where all we really need is a triple or a great catch from the outfield.

Jose and I don’t have children, nor any nieces or nephews, so we (sadly) have no chances to play with kids. I really miss that! We often play gin rummy, Scrabble and now, Bananagrams. He plays Tetris on the Iphone while I play Scrabble on the Ipad — cursing the bloody, stubborn algorithm for using words I have never heard of.

Do you play games — with your sweetie or friends or kids or grandkids?

Which ones do you enjoy most and why?

A mid-town Manhattan afternoon (includes tourist tips!)

In behavior, books, business, cities, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on August 24, 2012 at 12:01 am

My new book “Malled” in the bookstore window! Yay!

If you’ve never been to New York, you probably think “Times Square! Empire State Building! Statue of Liberty!”

Or, possibly, my favorite retail landmarks, Barney’s and Saks, where the 1 percent decide whether or not to drop $12,000 on a handbag. (Yes, that was one price I saw at Barney’s.)

What I enjoy most about Manhattan is how much pleasure, on a good day, you can derive from a mere few blocks. Here’s a terrific daily list — and it’s a long one — of all the free stuff you can do here. It’s run by my super-talented friend Elizabeth who, naturellement, also sings in a band called The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel.

Here’s how I spent my Wednesday this week, a blessed respite from my glued-to-the-computer-alone-in-the-boring-suburbs daily routine:

11:00 a.m. I arrive at Grand Central Station (which you must visit because it’s so gorgeous since the renovation finished in 1998. It also has great shops, with everything from shoes to books to olive oil to cupcakes and Junior’s legendary cheesecake.) My train pulls in on the lower level. I settle in at the little cafe beside the clock for a small panini and a cappuccino.

11:30 a.m. I find out why my cellphone isn’t handling email at the Verizon store at 44th and Madison. (Remember that address if you need phone help.)

11:40 Check out H & M, a blur of $12 polyester. I snag a way sexy red stretch dress and pray, if I stop eating for a week and wear a lot of Spanx, it will look good. I pick up two patent leather bags for $8 each, for my trip to the Decatur Literary Festival next week. I’m speaking at 2:30 Sept. 2. Come visit!

noon Check out Zara. Their accessories are always interesting; I buy a lovely cream wool scarf/shawl with pale gray paisley print.

(Note: I’ve only covered two blocks of midtown, from 44th and Madison to 42d and Madison. Manhattan’s density can save you a lot of time.)

1:00 Arrive at the New York Times building at 8th and 41st. It’s a local landmark, designed by Renzo Piano, covered in glossy white metal bars. I love walking into the lobby beneath the huge metal Gothic letters that mimic the paper’s name. The old Times’ building, 229 West 43d., was old-school, with a tiny lobby in dark granite. The new one is enormous, airy, bright, with a central atrium filled with trees and grass. The guard calls Jose, my husband who works in the business section, and I get my day pass.

Tip: There are two restaurants in the building, on the main floor, in an area not known for good food. Try Schnippers’ for mac and cheese, burgers and fries.

1:20 We eat lunch in the 14th floor cafeteria, with its tomato red carpet, large round tables, Eames chairs and a balcony with benches where you can sneak a snooze. I see, as I always do there, several editors and writers I know, one just arrived from London. Even though I’m “only” freelance, it’s nice to be welcomed and know so many people.

2:30 I head to the business section and have a chat with several female friends who work at the paper. Another editor’s wife, a friend, happens to be visiting as well. Gabfest!

2:45 I pitch another idea to my editor there and he wants it. Score!

3:15 I visit Muji with K, my friend who used to live in Tokyo. She admires their tatami mats and I buy a gray cotton dress, perfect for fall with my new gray and white scarf. If you don’t know this Japanese retailer, check it out for everything from colored pencils to cushion covers to stockings.

4:00 With watermelon coolers in hand, we settle into one of the hundreds of dark green tables in Bryant Park. The park, once closed for many years, has become the most wonderful urban oasis. There’s a carousel ($2), great food, a reading room (!) lending books and magazines, chess players, fountains and many happy people enjoying it all.

6:00 I have two hours to kill before I meet Jose back at Grand Central to take our train home. I walk to the southern edge of the park, deciding whether or not to ride the carousel, when I see three tables covered with…board games. And two people playing a fast and ferocious game of Bananagrams, which I’ve never seen or played. “Can I join you?” I ask. The game is a blast, a faster-moving version of Scrabble. My two partners are quick and literate so we’re racing the clock to yell “Bananas!” to signal that we’ve won. Turns out that Sarah, wearing a Bryant Park polo shirt, is paid to play games all day with whoever shows up. She’ll be there until September 30. I’m so psyched to go back!

Tip: The hardest challenge for everyone in Manhattan is finding a clean, safe, attractive — free — place to pee. Bryant Park has one of the city’s nicest toilets, in the northeast corner, with marble counters and fresh flowers. Grand Central Station, at 42d and Park (two blocks further east), has three restrooms, two women-only, two on the lower floor.

6:55 Crossing Fifth Avenue, I see a steady stream of gleaming black Escalades, ferrying the wealthy Wall Street crowd north to their homes on the Upper East Side. While the rest of us hoof, subway, bus or cab it, this daily migration is a reminder of how economically divided the city really is.

Tip: The only reason we really, really, really hate tourists? They stand still in the middle of the sidewalk, stopping in front of the rest of us who are always in a big hurry. Or they walk really slowly, sometimes three or four abreast, blocking our way. Once you exit a building, pretend the sidewalk is moving and will, like the ones in airports, will throw you off if you don’t pay attention. Pay attention!

7:00 A quick tour of Sephora, seeking a birthday present for a younger friend, I buy a bar of Fresh Hesperides soap, which smells divine and will last for a month.

7:50 Walk past Posman Books, one of my favorite indie bookstores, which — to my deeply grateful astonishment — is displaying my book in the window. I’m thrilled, as some of the country’s top book, magazine and publishing editors and agents shop there. Chat briefly with an elegant older woman shopper who lives in Zurich, buying Aristophanes.

7:57 Buy popcorn and chocolate milk for dinner to eat on the train. Jose finds me at the platform and we head north.

Tulips, Tea, Cashmere — How To Survive This Long, Snowy Winter!

In behavior, domestic life, entertainment, family, Fashion, film, food, Health, life, nature, urban life, US, Weather on February 1, 2011 at 11:46 am
Cover of The Mail and Empire, Christmas 1897

Image via Wikipedia

Are you utterly sick of snow and ice yet? There’s more to come.

Coping skills, stat!

Nice piece on how to survive this insanely cold snowy winter, from The Globe and Mail:

Take a young person to whom you are not related to lunch. I did – a charming way to find out about their lives, to reflect on your own children’s progress and to feel generous, hopeful and wise. If you’re young, suggest lunch to a mentor. For sure they will pay!

Volunteer. The eternal cure. Whether it’s to teach literacy to newcomers or to ladle out soup on a cold winter night, helping others never fails to lift your own spirits.

Cook passionately. Entertain generously. See people constantly. On one snowy day I made a red lentil soup that made several people happy, and you can never go wrong in winter with a nice hot curry.

Movies. Why go out, the theory goes, when DVDs and downloads are so easy. In the depths of winter you can explore a theme. I’m thinking great newspaper movies, such as Citizen Kane and All The President’s Men.

I’ll add:

Tea. I have a huge stash of tea ready at hand, from black and spicy loose leaf Earl Grey and blackcurrant tea to green tea, chai (Tazo is nice), lemon and Constant Comment, which has orange and spices in it. As the daylight fades, I brew a pot of tea in my white bone china teapot, let it steep, find a cup and saucer, add some milk and pour. Maybe a few biscuits or a bit of cheese and apple. Perfect!

Cashmere. Think thrift shop, vintage stores and consignment shops and you’ll find a cosy cashmere cardigan or pullover for the price of a cotton T-shirt. Cashmere is, although it comes from the belly of Mongolian goats, the workhorse of fabrics. I’m writing this wearing my go-to winter outfit — a calf-length black cashmere T-shirt dress that is so old I can’t remember the year I bought it….1993? A long time ago.

A lovely bit of cashmere, whether socks, a sweater, a scarf, mitts or hat, is light, warm, chic, and will last for decades. What’s not to love?

Plants, everywhere. Just when you think you will never see green again, time to head to your local nursery and pick up a few growing, live plants. Watering and spraying them will remind you that living things still do exist!

Visit a botanical garden. What better place than the fragrant humidity of a glass-enclosed garden? One of my best memories ever was in November in Stockholm, when it was dark by 3:00 pm and the sun did not rise until 8:30 a.m. We visited the Butterfly House — where live butterflies float past and often land on you.

Long walks. The best investment anyone can make when facing a long, snowy, icy winter is a great pair of winter boots, waterproof and warm — and a pair of Yaktrax. These little rubber overshoes with metal claws on the bottom make a long, vigorous walk a serious option without that terrible fear of falling. I’ve used them. They work!

Ice skating/snow-shoeing/skiing/sledding. If you’re stuck with months of ice and snow, best to find some ways to make fun use of it. There are plenty of great places to go skating even in super-urban New York City. One of my favorite things to do is cruise the temporary ice-rink at Bryant Park, open until February 27, which offers fabulous music and the most lovely surroundings — from the glittery curves of the Chrysler Building to the Empire State Building a few blocks south. Soaring around its oval as the sun sets and the towers light up all around you is a wonderful way to end even the coldest and grayest day.

And here is an extraordinary photo of how the sun will strike a Mallorca church tomorrow, February 2, in a twice-yearly phenomenon.

In case you happen to be in the area…

There is sunshine out there!

How are you surviving this endless freeze?

The Other Bryant Park Legend — Ice Skating!

In sports, travel on November 21, 2009 at 9:15 am
Members of synchronized ice skating team the H...

Bryant Park skating rink.Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Here is one of my favorite places in New York City — and, like Brigadoon, it’s a magical, fleeting vision. The Bryant Park skating rink opened November 6 and will close January 24. It’s the city’s first and only free skating rink. If you have the chance to visit the city, and have any skating ability at all, don’t miss it.

The rink is huge, filling much of the park, the rest of the space, only for the holidays, temporarily housing a hundred small booths selling crafts and gifts for Christmas. The rink’s music is fantastic and the whole thing, in midtown Manhattan mid-recession, is free. It’s the happiest place I know.

If you’re a serious skater, which like many Canadians, I am, you have to arrive right when it opens and get your licks in, whizzing around the oval with freedom to move safely. By noon, the happy hordes have arrived, many of them utterly terrified of falling, who clutch the sides of the rink and shuffle around it. Or, like really dangerous drivers, skate directly in front of you with no warning, causing nasty, painful collisions. They rent blue plastic skates for $12 for unlimited time and there are lockers for your stuff; veterans know to bring thick socks and their own lock.

After you’re pooped, you can sit on the sidelines at a cafe, sip a hot chocolate and pinch yourself. There’s the Empire State building, mere blocks south. There’s the Public Library directly in front of you. You’re in the heart of Manhattan — 42d and 6th — and you’re doing what ecstatic little kids in Minnesota and Winnipeg are doing in their backyards these frosty winter mornings. Skating.

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