Tuesday, July 12, 2011

goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

The door closes on our empty apartment and the end (for now) of our life in the Great Big Apple. . .

I'm afraid it's over and out for my New York blog. To all those in cyberspace who followed my ramblings, I'm grateful that someone
out there was listening.

goodbye to my water tower skyline

This is my final goodbye to my beloved New York . . . an honorary picture gallery of the city's ubiquitous yet highly intriguing water towers. I will miss your conical-roofed skyline, the geometry and the angles and the latticework.

I'm moving to a new skyline of green wooded hills, reflecting water and deep blue African skies.

All the same, I will miss you.

And to end, a glass reflection of a water tower, to symbolise my own personal reflection of the incredibly fulfilling hours and days I've spent in New York City

adieu to the Flat Iron

Well, I simply can’t say goodbye to New York without reminiscing about another of my most favourite buildings …  

The Flat Iron.

Iconic, highly unusual and quite unforgettable, I’ve recently discovered that it was designed by a Chicago architect — Daniel Hudson Burnham.

We have a connection, Chicago and I.

With its very nice address Fifth Ave between 22nd and 23rd streets — the building is also a National Historic Landmark. The triangular piece of land it was built on dictated the building’s shape: like an old-fashioned clothing iron that was once heated on the top of a wood stove. Where the Flat Iron’s walls meet at its sharp point, the space inside is only 2 metres in breadth. But this is where most of the building’s work people want to be, since the apex directly faces onto the Empire State.

The back (or broader beam) of the Flat Iron

Designed in a Beaux Arts architectural style you don’t realise, until you get right up close to the Flat Iron’s exterior, that it has beautiful decorative details carved and sculpted into its limestone blocks: Gothic and Renaissance-type faces, flowers and leaves. Built (in 1902) just as the development of modern skyscrapers was getting underway, the Flat Iron was one of the first structures to use a steel skeleton.

I will be sad not to stand across the street at Madison Square Park and ogle upwards at its distinctive imprint on the sky.

Monday, July 11, 2011

ode to my NYC friends

Having just written the post below about the perceived difficulty of making meaningful connections in this city, I feel I need to honour in some way those special new friendships I did form over the last 2½ years in the Big Apple.
To start with, there is:

Shelley, whom I contacted in New York through the tenuous link of Facebook — Shelley is a cyber connection of one of my student-day friends, and still today the two have never met:

Your spiritualism and deeply insightful mind gave rise to some enlightening metaphysical conversations, while your heritage, steeped in haute couture and Indian modern Expressionist art, made you a fascinating companion at the museums, art galleries and auction houses we visited together.

Barbara, whom I met through astrology classes:

Together we navigated the bewildering — but wildly inspiring — world of stars, planets and the zodiac, and through our shared interest, fast became firm friends. Your loud peals of laughter, unfailing optimism and unabashed zest for life (very Sagittarian, Barbara!) were always highly uplifting. We had enormous fun at classes in Chelsea and in your beautiful home in Harlem (and on our girls' nights eating tapas and drinking cava), trying to decipher the universe.

Yvonne: we shared a Dutch heritage — and an apartment building.

During our weekly sessions at Le Pain Quotidien, or over a Starbucks caramel frappucino and muffins, I shared your hurdles as little Sanne slowly, surely, became a reality in the growing bump of your belly. Together we watched your body change and before we knew it, sunny, smiling Sanne, the cutest, most well-behaved little Dutch-American girl, arrived in your world.

And finally Cari, a South African living in California, whose book I once edited and during the process of which a deep friendship formed:

In the entire two and a half years I lived in New York, we never got to see each other (except right at the very end!), but your regular Monday morning phone calls while driving hours and hours to your different pharmaceutical branches gave us the opportunity to talk … about psychology, astrology, the science of numbers, life’s ups and downs, and coping in a foreign city.

All of you enriched my life in my totally new environment and I’m so grateful for your friendship, the experiences we shared and the things I learned in the time we spent together. I humbly thank you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It seems that all the talk now is about leaving …  Well, that’s not too far from the truth. And thoughts of leaving bring on much contemplation. Looking back. Reviewing the two and a half years we’ve lived here.

Survived New York City.

I say that only because New Yorkers themselves talk about surviving the city. And just recently, two unrelated stories in the New York Times discussed that very same challenge. The first, by Brendan Bernhard, talked of how, if you could make it in New York, you could make it anywhere. Just like the Frank Sinatra song.

It is a sentiment to which countless scrambling [NYC] residents still subscribe. If they can just work hard enough, be ingenious and ruthless enough, they, too, will be “king of the hill, top of the heap” because this is the place. Or so we like to think.

The story also talks of New Yorkers “stowed away in tiny apartments with their sorrows and pets”.

 Yes, in New York space is a premium … personal space, living space, breathing space. Which leads me to the second story. It was initiated by a theatre experiment in Times Square, where a single member of the public gets to witness a short piece of acting by one artist in an extremely confined space. Now, New Yorkers are used to sharing their very limited space with others. But when it becomes this intimate — a one-on-one, with direct eye contact, and sometimes physical touch — it gets highly uncomfortable. And having spent the last couple of years myself trying to establish meaningful relationships in this high-strung place, it kind of struck a chord.

Theatre critic Charles Isherwood expressed it this way:

 …this artful production leaves you with an unsettling sense of how guarded, mediated and constrained most of our daily interactions with other people are.

H. and I, in fact, have had many conversations on this subject: what is it about New Yorkers that makes deep connections so difficult to cement? The transience of life here, that most people are just travelling through? Young initiates testing their limits of perseverance; ambitious job-seekers gaining precious experience before the city’s rough-handling wears them down and they move on; musicians, actors and artists trying to make the Big Time… Is the reticence to form bonds the fact that, surely, one day they must be severed because inexorably, inevitably, people in this city move on?

We haven’t quite answered our own question yet, but while reflecting on our own precious but limited time in the Big City, it intrigued me that this subject kept on coming up. For myself, I’m eternally grateful that I did manage to form a few deep connections in this Great Big Apple, but it certainly didn’t come without concerted effort.

And in spite of that, New York, I still ♥ you.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

high line section II

Just in time for us to get a quick look-see, and some pleasurable ambling, before we say goodbye to the Big Apple . . . the marvellous High Line urban park has opened a new section. Great timing!

And immensely pleasurable it turns out to be. A little more luxuriant and overgrown, a little wilder, more treed, with a mossy grove of tall magnolias sprouting umbrella-like leaves — and yet the amble remains gritty and urban, with glimpses of graffiti, rusty steel girders, and delapidated buildings needing some TLC. And of course it wouldn't be the same without the sleek glass and aluminium-clad apartments hugging — and sometimes even leaning over — the rehabilitated railway-line walkway. Certainly no privacy for these future occupants . . . but then New York is full of exhibitionists anyway.

Finally, there are the quirky corners, little cameos made up of wildflowers, patches of wall, fencing, mural art. And, always, an elevated view over Chelsea's trafficked streets and urban-scapes, giving you a unique perspective on New York City.

An experiment: a geometric sculpture of steel mesh and bird boxes,
devised to attract little feathered friends

An elevated walkway looks down onto surreal giant-leaved magnolias,
creating a forest-canopy feel

Modern sophistication returns to the High Line

A resident with a sense of humour . . .
a peeping, waving mannequin

Pollinator at work. . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

provincetown, cape cod

Well, now you know why we’ve been doing so much travelling.
Time … she is afleeting, on very swift winged feet, and while we’ve been temporarily lent to New York City we might as well get to see what’s around it in the time left to us. Don’t you think?

So we took ourselves off, via the lovely Charles River greenbelt of Boston, to Provincetown at the apex of the Cape Cod peninsula that sweeps into a curve like a scorpion's tail. A charming little village lining a shoreline bobbing with boats, we loved the peak-roofed architecture with its shingles and balconies and decorative woodwork. Little magic gardens were crammed with flowers and trailing creepers and obscured pathways. And restauranteurs took good advantage of wooden decks leveraged over the sand with views across the ocean.

You could spend all day wandering into a long line of whimsical stores selling wares from jewellery and trinkets to Eastern artefacts to fudge and saltwater taffy (soft chewy candy wrapped in paper with twisted ends). And it’s not made with saltwater. Just in case you asked.

Or you could sit at a deck railing with a little chilled something in front of you, watching the ferry forge in and out of the tiny harbour.

They’re big on clams and lobster and crab in this little town, but there are also some excellent eating hideouts tucked away behind the main street, where imagination and the freshest ingredients produce amazing taste sensations.

Provincetown’s quirks and witticisms are best appreciated visually, so here are the pics to reel you in next time you’re in Cape Cod.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

reminiscing, before the goodbyes

Sadly, sadly … our time in this challenging but wondrous city is coming to an end. What has to be, has to be. It’s taken me a while to absorb the idea, to come to terms with it, to be able to write about it, and, eventually, to allow the city to loosen its grip on my soul.
 And now that it’s drawing to a close, I realise there is so much about this city, and our experiences in it, that I haven’t written about. Things that are so quintessentially New York that it’s a crime not to write about them.

 Let's see …

For one, I’ve seen Katherine Zeta-Jones and the indefatiguable Angela Lansbury (85 at the time and still on Broadway!!) in “A Little Night Music”. Katherine was luminously beautiful and a surprisingly good theatre actor, her gestures subtle and her comic timing perfect. She even sang … the very difficult song “Send in the Clowns” … in a thin yet perfectly acceptable voice.

But it was Angela who had us in stitches as a crusty lady of much wealth and great acerbic wit. How she managed to memorise her very difficult lines is beyond me. That I be that sharp and bright at 70.

I’ve also seen (pass me the oxygen) Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman in “Steady Rain”, in which the entire play consisted of their characters sitting on two chairs on a sparse stage, reminiscing about their friendship and a couple of pivotal events of the past. Contrary to how it sounds, their performance was riveting. And to have two such hunks cornered in a compromised space in front of you for two hours … well, what can I say.

I’ve spotted Julianne Moore, with her lustrous strawberry hair, at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea where we were viewing a stunning Picasso exhibition. Obviously she was, too.

I’ve spied CNN's Piers Morgan ambling through Central Park with someone who might’ve been his wife.

 And, yes, I got my arm twisted to watch Bruce Springsteen in concert (I mean, the guy’s from New Jersey, how could I not?). I will tell you one thing: I’ve never seen so many adults acting like juvenile adolescents. Ostensibly grown-up people were on their feet, jiggling their hips and jabbing the air with their fingers in rhythm to Bruce’s choruses, bellowing his words back to him like they’d written the songs themselves. Known for his championing of the working class, Bruce clearly could do no wrong. When he threw himself off the stage, they caught him with outstretched hands and surfed him across their heads. The volume was pumped so high, the ringing in my ears drowned my own voice for a week thereafter.

 “Million Dollar Quartet” — that musical about the singular day Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were at the same recording studio and got to play sweet rock’n’roll together? I’ve seen it twice. I’ve watched “Jersey Boys”, about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons … once. After I’d dissed “The Lion King” for years as a cartoon-like Disney-esque production (or so I thought), I went to see it. It utterly blew my mind. I cried at the sound of the black South Africans’ vocal harmonies; I was entranced by the giant elephants ambling down the aisles; I was speechless at the quirky authenticity of the puppet-manipulated springboks; I fell in love with the gangly long-necked giraffes.

I’ve even watched Daniel Radcliffe — he of the Harry Potter cult — dance, sing and act his way extremely well through the musical “How to Succeed in Business”. (Sometimes drowned out by the squealing from a crammed auditorium of highly excitable teenage girls.)

 Finally, I was privileged to experience the unbelievably psychedelic art exhibit by Fred Tomaselli at the Brooklyn Museum. This artist’s massive canvases have been turned into kaleidoscopic-coloured images of birds and spirals and Op-Art graphics using only pharmaceutical pills: aspirins, prescription drugs, anti-depressants, psychedelics — as well as pressed and dried marijuana leaves, and tiny cutouts of birds, animals and flowers from magazines. A canvas of an owl was purely created out of concentric circles of eyeball images. Hallucinatory, but supremely mesmerizing.

And on that note, that’s what New York has done to me.
Mesmerized me.

Angela Lansbury/Katherine Zeta-Jones: Accesshollywood.com
Hugh Jackman: Jollypeople.com
Daniel Craig: Hotslive.com