Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What I’ve been up to…

… in the Big City

*  Had my head buried in paperwork. The beautifully designed pages (I’m over the moon!) of my new book The Best (Soft) 4x4 Trips by Far arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago. So … I’ve been poring over text and pictures – and neglecting my Blog. K’s (our longtime travelling friend) and H’s photographs are magnificent, and it all feels terribly exciting that it’s finally coming together. (Watch this space!)

*  Having signed up as members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, H and I visited the museum’s Cantor Roof Garden, which had just opened for the summer, on Friday evening. (Mistake!!) Firstly, because it was such a beautiful, balmy slice of dusk, Friday was not a good time to mingle with the throngs of post-work yuppies who had the same idea. Secondly, the main attraction was a giant – and quite magnificent – 40m-long steel tree sculpture that looked as if it had been uprooted in a maelstrom (the title of the artwork) and flung onto the roof (pic above). Leaning across the entire length of the roof space with a tangle of shiny metal branches creating steel tracery against the sky, the sculpture designed by Roxy Paine felt interactive and tactile. People were leaning against it, stepping over it, ducking to avoid its spiky protrusions, running their fingers along it with pure wonder in their faces. It was beautiful enough for us to decide to return on a quieter day.
[photo by Librado Romero, New York Times]

*  Sat in the BB King Blues Club on 42nd Street, near Times Square, on Wednesday night to watch one of our favourite American jazz and blues singers, Etta James, perform LIVE! Yes, tickets weren’t cheap and our simple, basic meal cost the same as a main course at Union Square Café (one of NY’s top five) but, hey, you don’t always get to see your jazz idol live in concert. Despite the fact that she’s now 71, she was sassy, sultry, funny and her voice as powerful as ever. A review in The New York Times described her singing as being, in turn ‘breathy or flinty, flirtatious or bitter’ and declared that she ‘still plunges into songs with soulful drama’. We knew many of her numbers from our CD collection and absolutely loved the show. This is the exhilarating part of living in New York. . .

*  Ran a 10km race (together with nearly 8000 runners!!) through Central Park on Saturday. My mind still boggles at the sheer number of runners who pitch up (in the pouring rain, nogal) to run such a mild distance. Come to think of it, perhaps that's why so many of them turn up. . . This time the Park was so acid green and leafy, I could hardly make out the snatches of familiar landmarks peeking through the canopies every now and again. Next stop, Brooklyn Half. Aargh.

Monday, May 18, 2009

quirky faces of nyc

I wanted to do justice to the expert photographic eye of my new NYC acquaintance, Andre Neethling, so here, through his lens, are some fun faces of the crazy Big Apple. . .

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

all's right with my world…

It’s a feeling that’s been quietly creeping in on stealthy feet, taking me unawares and pouncing on me when least expected. I had a first inkling of it a couple of weeks ago, while I was sitting on a bench opposite the pristinely white Guggenheim Museum. Wide-eyed tourists speaking all kinds of different languages were clicking away to capture the Guggenheim’s perfectly ranged spheres, angled outward like a futuristic space station (‘an inverted ziggurat’ says the website). The only design of Frank Lloyd Wright’s in New York City (completed 1959), the museum is proud of its Impressionist, Modern and contemporary art collections.
I remembered how I’d felt the first time I stood in awe before its front portals. I was a tourist then. It struck me that, now, I was looking at it as a resident. I was … well … a New Yorker. (Okay, almost.) I was filled with a feeling of exhilaration and pride.

And it happened again today. Beautiful clear skies and a gentle breeze, spiky and feathered and serrated tulips in all their multicoloured variations giving way to irises and resplendent rhododendrons (or azaleas) -- it all prompted me to put on my running shoes.

You’ve got to give it to the City of New York – their commitment to maintaining their parks and recreational areas is admirable. The Hudson River on the West Side has a series of paths and walkways that stretch from the George Washington bridge at 178th Street in the north all the way down to Battery Park, a high-density residential area at the southwestern tip of Manhattan. (The same happens on the East Side too, but that’s for another time…) And all along these paths is clipped and pruned landscaping, wooden benches and water fountains, steel tables and chairs.

Today was one of those days when I felt like I could run forever. There were ducks and Canadian geese and seagulls; the grey USS Intrepid aircraft carrier museum was berthed in its usual place; the Circle Line and ferries to New Jersey were spewing out passengers.

I’d earned my short, double-shot cappucino from Starbucks and as I stood on Broadway, yellow cabs, Metro buses and cars streaming by while I waited to cross the street to my apartment, I felt a moment of delirious happiness. (The endorphins from my run must have just kicked in.)

Nevertheless, right now, all is very, very right with my world…

Friday, May 8, 2009

Running, New York Marathon and stuff…

Having managed to stay on the right side of running (read: we still do it despite the insidious passage of the years), H wasted no time in signing us up with a running club the minute we stepped down in New York City. We’re now proud members of the NY Road Runners.

I’d hardly caught my breath before we were striding across Central Park to get to the start of our first official race (a reasonably untaxing 5-mile/8km distance). Luckily, too, because of the weather, the starting time wasn’t as excruciatingly early as in South Africa. It was still the dead of winter, so we had on all the paraphernalia – leggings, gloves, goofy-looking Lycra beanies – our breath emerging in puffs of steam. It struck me that the charged atmosphere and the bustle of runners, walking, jogging, stretching, chatting animatedly, were no different from our races back home. The blaring music was the same, as was the cheering and whistling from the crowd responding to the voices of the race organisers over the loudspeakers. The only difference was the number of people tuned out and plugged in to their iPods during the run – street or running track, nothing changes…

After we all set off at the sound of a horn (no pop-guns here – ‘You wouldn’t want to scare the squirrels,’ H quipped), I remember feeling totally exhilarated and almost disbelieving that I was running through one of the most famous parks in the world. We passed the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, sky-reflecting tall glass buildings, the Dakota building where John Lennon lived and was shot, Tavern on the Green… My heart beat faster than even my legs could get it to pump.
We wrapped up our race the New York way, stopping off to buy fresh bagels and (low fat) cream cheese at H&H on our way home.

A week later our next race was a 15km, and the last one in Central Park for some time. Which might explain the turnout – 5000 runners! The Knysna Half is capped at 5500… It’s an indication of the vast numbers of people who live in and commute to New York City. This time the snowdrops were out, as were pretty purple crocuses and groves of daffodils. The whiff of spring was in the air. And at the end of the race, volunteers behind rows of tables were handing out bananas, apples, sodas – it felt like Market Day.

And today, as I ran through Riverside Park trailing the edge of the Hudson River, the whimsical beauty of spring had already translated into fallen pink carpets beneath the cherry trees, leaving behind luminescent-green canopies. Spring is fast making way for summer. Now our nimble-footed (we can always hope…) sights are set on … the New York marathon!

Notoriously difficult to get into, H has already bagged his entry by signing up with a Cancer charity, pledging to raise a pile of $US. Considerate guy that he is, on discovering that I could be entered into a lottery draw he promptly signed me up online. So Olden-Day holding of thumbs coupled with New Age positive visualisations will keep me pretty busy going forward.

Next challenge was to get me into the New York Half (should I be getting the message? I think it’s that H wants me to be lithe and trim all the way into middle age). H automatically qualifies for the Half with his marathon entry but for me, online applications opened at noon sharp on 1 May. First come, first served. So H put Post-Its all around his PC as a reminder. He needn’t have bothered. The website was so deluged with entries it crashed. Yet so persistent was he that my name made it into the lottery by late afternoon. Go, H!

In the meantime, there’s the Brooklyn Half to train for. Yep, I’m in for that too.