Thursday, December 31, 2009

Times Square at New Year

Aaah, soooo beautiful… Exactly a week after Christmas, and just in time to herald in 2010, we awoke this morning to a white world, snowflakes swirling past the window like masses of tiny weightless butterflies.

I walked, with teeny ice clusters landing on my nose and eyelashes (just like in The Sound of Music…) and accumulating on the black fur collar of my coat. I could smell the sugared whiff of roasted chestnuts as my boots crunched across icy snow-strewn pavements. Cars and buildings and Central Park’s equestrian statues were all crowned with the prettiest white frosting. And the park’s skeletal trees, only the upper half of their branches outlined in snow, created an otherworldly chiaroscuro landscape of black and white. It was all pure fantasy.

And so, tonight, the Times Square ball will shoot down its spire to fireworks and the cheering of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, out-of-towners and tourists who will pack themselves like filleted sardines onto Broadway at One Times Square.

Here are a few things you might not know about the 2009 ball.

It has a diameter of 12ft (3½m) and weighs 11 875 lb (5385kg)

It’s encrusted with 2688 triangular Waterford crystals

Each crystal is inscribed with a winged angel or a starburst

The ball has 32 256 LEDs that create a kaleidoscope effect using 16 million colours (!!!)

It’s worth $2 million

The ball drops 77ft (23½m) in 60 seconds

It used to be released by 6 men with ropes but is now computerised

After New Year, the ball remains on the spire for visitors to ogle throughout the rest of the year

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a white Christmas

My friend Andre's roving camera captured in a few clicks the magic of one night's snow whiteout. . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

visit from an american kestrel

The woman in the elevator - so muffled up in coat, hat and scarf you could hardly see her face - looked at me in amazement and said, 'You're going out like THAT?!' Well, I was quite dressed up myself . . . leggings, gloves, two thermal vests and a hoodie to protect my head and ears for my run in Central Park. But when I stepped outside, the icy blade of 20ºF . . . that's -7 degrees, guys!!! . . . sliced through to my bones. And when the frigid wind hit, it was decidedly frostier than -7. So frosty, in fact, that the puddles lining the Park ring-road were solid ice. Which is why Parks staff members were sprinkling salt all over them so people didn't slip and crack a coccyx.

Although the Park is a little stark and leafless, you can now see the statues once hidden by foliage, and the memorable buildings lining the greenbelt  - The Dakota where John Lennon once lived, the sheer glass slabs of Time Warner Center, the snow-white rotunda of the Guggenheim, the granite-looking block of Mt Sinai Medical Center.

And when I stopped to catch my breath - issuing from my mouth in filmy white clouds - I looked up to see, oh, wonder!, the black-outlined, white underwings of a red-tailed hawk planing above me. Still around in such snappy-cold air. . .

But that moment was capped by the visit - RIGHT NOW,  as I'm tapping away on my laptop - of an American kestrel, which swooped in and perched on the window ledge A FOOT AWAY from my PC! I've just been sitting here, in rapt wonderment, as it turned its black-and-white striped head and gave me a piercing gaze out of yellow-rimmed eyes, the wind ruffling its black-spotted chestnut feathers. Pausing briefly to check out its environs, it then glided off to find a new building pinnacle.

And as I sign off, the shadow of yet another raptor wafts past my windows. As I rush to get a better look, its spiky-feathered wing tips tilt into a wheeling manoeuvre for me before spiralling ever upward.

The day can't get better. . .

[Image: National Geographic]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the dentist

Okay … so I’ve FINALLY succumbed. I found a dentist.

And even though I thoroughly did my research (read: many, many personal recommendations) to find the kindest, most compassionate dentist this side of the Hudson River, I never knew he’d gently lead me down the Road to Armageddon. I write this with stitches in my gums, a jaw fat as a chipmunk’s cheek, and a wad of dressings that feel like my mouth’s stuffed with cotton wool.

Soup for a week, that’s my kindly fate …

So there I sat, captive as a lab rat on my dentist’s ascetic, clinically scrubbed reclining chair, ready to be dissected with a nasty array of shiny, honed, mean-looking instruments – and not even the million-dollar view could distract me. (I seem to have a knack for homing in on practitioners with the swankiest addresses – read choke-worthy fees … first, a homeopath sharing retail space with Broadway theatres, and now a dentist located on Fifth Avenue in no less than the Rockefeller Center.) My chair was so placed that it directly faced, through giant window panes, the Empire State building, rising geometrically perfect between two tall skyscrapers. If you stepped up to the 18th floor window and looked down, you had a pigeon’s perspective over the Rockefeller skating rink, where tiny carefree figures whirled and pirouetted on the ice.

But back to my dentist.

You’ve got to give it to them in this country. The professionalism, the intense thoroughness with which they approach everything, the carefully phrased questions, the meticulous recording of the answers, the clear unambiguous explanations of their planned procedures. Litigation, or the threat of being sued, hangs like the sword of Damocles over every aspect of daily life here in the US.

It feels like an age ago that I first sat in that chair. Six or so visits later (first checkup … second … third … Then time for the next procedure in a long line of procedures …) I’m wiser to my fate but no less fearful – you see, I lose consciousness at seeing a pinprick of blood on my own finger. I’m way beyond that first day when my dentist kindly took me on a gross guided tour of the inner workings of my mouth. Wielding a mirror that magnified every hair and pore on my face, I had to confront the dye on my teeth lighting up all my failings in luminescent Barbie pink.

Then there were the subsequent visits, the whining, whirring and whizzing of an array of instruments that belonged more with astronauts in a space shuttle ready to be catapulted into the outer realm.
And the smell of singed hair and the eternal whooshing of my spittle (and blood) being siphoned away… Mouth deadened by multiple deadly stabs of the needle (and eyes sealed tightly shut), all I was aware of was the scraping, tugging, kneading, pushing and pulling of an entity that was strangely not a part of me.

Stuck to my chair, helpless as a butterfly snagged by a lepidopterist's pin, once I dared open my eyes three masked figures swam above my face. Horrors! I was in some mysterious operating theatre! The transparent tinted window blind, cutting out the sun’s glare, gave the Empire State blurred edges so that it resembled the pointed Thailandi head-dress of a Far East buddha. And the significance of what was being done to me only became evident when I was asked to pry open my eyes and gargle… Blood-stained dentist’s gloves, a blood-spattered bib about my neck, rose-coloured gargle.

I survived, albeit with stitches, dressings and an exquisitely tender mouth. And in terms of becoming a fully fledged New Yorker, I have one more arrow to add to my quiver. A dentist.

street news

Having immersed myself for nine months now in the daily writings of NY-based magazine and newspaper journalists, I’ve developed a healthy respect for the city’s professional writers. They really are very good… Would that I could deftly spin my words and wittily toss out metaphors with the ease so many of them do. (Sigh)

And so, in my eternal attempts to define the magnetism of this city and the many subtle elements combining to make New York City unique, I find that these writers at times do it better than I can.

Shopfront steel roller-doors … an element that is such a defining characteristic of NYC’s streetscape. The City Council recently decided to phase these out (don’t hold your breath, 2026 is the cutoff date), thus allowing for a friendlier street face and decidedly more inviting views into night-time shopfront windows. And I just loved how journalist Manny Fernandez of the New York Times described the city’s storefront gates:

"… the unnoticed wallpaper of New York at night … those security gates that resemble old-fashioned auto garage doors, with narrow horizontal slats that rise up like a steely curtain.
They have been battered by vandals and defaced by graffiti taggers. They have secured diamonds, handmade tortellini and other valuable commodities.
They have provided the clattering soundtrack of dawn and dusk, the street canvas of struggling artists, the most compelling evidence that the city does, indeed, sleep."

New York, I ♥ you!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

jon bon jovi at rockefeller

The fall landscape is fast segueing into winter - the coloured foliage has all long dropped to the earth, leaving bare branches and skeletal trees outlined against mournful grey skies. I can't get used to the blanket of darkness blotting out the sky at 4:30pm. As a last lingering farewell to fall, here is a photo from our kitchen window looking down onto Broadway. Alas, those leaves are now fallen too!

So, to have some fun, my Dutch friend Yvonne and I met at the mightily young hour of 7:15am (well, that's VERY early for me. . .) and caught the subway down to 50th Street, then walked to Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center to see Jon Bon Jovi performing outside the NBC TV studios. I absolutely love Rockefeller for its Art Deco architectural features, decorative plaster sculptures and ginormous statue of Atlas, facing the Gothic St Patrick's Cathedral. The ice has been laid on the open-air skating rink, the Christmas tree with its spangly Swarovski crystal star has been lit and skaters loop and twirl beneath it to music booming out from the loudspeakers.

Well . . . we didn't count on the thousands of other meschuggenah New Yorkers who didn't find 7:00am too early to catch a glimpse of Jon Bon Jovi. The streets were jammed with excited chattering people, all giving the multitude of police officers a major headache as they cajoled us to move along, please, move along . . . no standing in the streets or blocking the sidewalks! (So, as Leo Sayer sang, we moved along all day. . .) We managed to sneak behind a barrier where people had been coralled since 6:00am to get a good view, and even caught side glimpses of Bon Jovi as he leapt onto the stage and sang . . . one song . . . (to great cheering and swooning of lovestruck housewives waving 'We Love You' placards). Then he disappeared for an age (giving interviews for NBC, we assumed) and returned to sing a few more songs. At that point, although we loved the atmosphere and the brittle cold and the shivers of excitement in the air, a Starbucks double-espresso cappucino felt far more important than an ageing rock star . . . and Starbucks won.