Monday, December 20, 2010

lots and lots of santas

This time of year kinda demands some kind of allusion to Christmas, Santas and, more non-denominationally (especially in this part of the world), Happy Holidays. Certainly, there’s no shortage of Santas on TV or hanging out in large department stores or appearing as cheery cutouts pasted on apartment windows. But I have to admit, I was a little perplexed last Saturday (Dec 11th) during a run in Central Park. (Guys, I’ve been running in -5ºC temperatures!! Madness, yes. Frost-burned nose and mouth, yes. Looking like an alien in leggings, gloves and beanie, yes.)

But every 50 paces I’d spot a new Santa, striding through the park all decked out in his cherry-red suit and white-pompomed hat. ‘There must be a whole lotta very confused kids walking around here,’ I thought to myself, a little puzzled. I know Santa manages to get around quite a bit, but this was ridiculous. Definitely spreading himself a little too thin these days.

Then I crested a rise, only to behold Santas pouring over the hill, much the same way I’ve watched a herd of elephants trooping in from the horizon on their way to water. They just kept on coming, jovial and scarlet and trimmed in white — in every shape and size, male and female, tall and short, some beautiful, some demure, some outrageous. There were fur-trimmed minis and fishnet stockings, hot pants and buckled biker boots, hats and scarves and feather boas — all in fetching pillar-box red. But there were also green elves in spiky hats and pointy shoes, reindeers with fuzzy antlers, and ghoulish ghosts of Christmases past.

And I swear it, I could absolutely put money on it, Keanu Reeves in a Santa hat turned around in front of me before being swallowed up in the morass of white fur and pompoms. There’s simply no mistaking his profile and those tilted almond eyes… When I quizzed one of the Santas, he said it was highly likely as Keanu lives in New York City.

So … here’s what was going down. All these people were taking part in SantaCon which, as they say on their website, is a ‘non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year for absolutely no reason’. The general idea is to converge at a central point and pool gifts that will later be given to children in need, but thereafter the party is on! Despite this declaration on their site — ‘It’s not a bar crawl; every time you call SantaCon a bar crawl, a sugarplum fairy dies’ — a lot of drinking gets done.

What you can expect is: ‘holiday cheer, unconventional gifts, naughty carols and general mayhem.’
But there are a few provisos:

- You should never (because Santa never does) endanger your reindeer with violence, vandalism, inappropriate groping or theft.


- Don’t litter; Santa likes his elves dirty and his streets clean.

And with that, Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ode to autumn

And so, incredibly, Thanksgiving Day has rolled around again. I’m still trying to assimilate the rousing shades of fall but, already, strapped-up Douglas firs are piled high outside Asian flower markets in anticipation of Christmas. There are flaming potted poinsettias wrapped in snowflake-patterned cellophane, scarlet-berried branches amassed in buckets. Have we really arrived at this time of year again?

So, before the biting wind whirling off the Hudson River wrests the last of the multicoloured leaves off their branches, here is a visual ode to the deep rust-reds, Hot English mustard yellows and camel-hair tones of fall 2010 in Central Park.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

roger waters & the wall

Well, I just can’t pass up telling you of our experience of this amazing live concert at a venue right next door to the home of the New York Jets and New York Giants. I never believed the tiered stadium would fill, but fill up to the eaves it did. The roar of the crowd when Roger Waters, formerly of the band Pink Floyd (need I tell you that?!), walked onto the stage was more damaging to the ears than all their electric guitars in unison. My ears were ringing for a week. And we floated out on a stench of marijuana so strong we might as well have been stoned with the rest of them.

Needless to say, the show was mind-blowing: a combination of pyrotechnical wizardry, lasers, projected graphics and spine-chilling sound effects – the drone of warplanes, the chtok-chtok-chtok of a helicopter, the drumming of marching feet. As the rock concert proceeded, a towering white wall was constructed onstage, brick by giant brick, the tiny figure of Roger Waters all in black dwarfed by its massiveness. Slowly the supporting band and row of vocalists disappeared behind the wall, which then became the canvas for many of the projected images and animation sequences we know so well from the Pink Floyd movie.

But first it started with a searing line of fireworks shooting up across the front of the stage (see image above). There were inflated floor-to-ceiling puppets with terrifyingly grimaced faces and fiery eyes, arms and legs clawing at us. There was the overprotective mother, looming over the stage, arms crossed over an ample bosom. On the wall were the words ‘Big Brother’s Watching You’ with the ‘Br’ crossed out and replaced by an ‘M’ to read ‘mother’.
When Waters sang, “Should I listen to the government?” graffiti-ed letters appeared in fire-engine red on the wall: No … F***ing … Way!
The crowd erupted.

One of the lighting cages suspended high above the crowd transformed into a helicopter, beaming out a powerful strobe of light and accompanied by reverberating sound effects. Regimental rows of boots and sickles marched across the wall, then the shadows of warplanes, then rows of crosses and headstones. A gigantic inflated black pig with tusks and burning eyes floated over the audience’s heads, just, just out of reach. When we couldn’t discern any cables or marionette strings, we realised it was being remote-controlled!

There were new and familiar images – the unbelievably sexual flower-devouring-flower sequence, warplanes dropping bombs made up of religious and corporate symbols: the crucifix, star of David, crescent of Islam, Mercedes-Benz and Shell (maybe a little behind the times??). And with the use of lighting technology, there were impressive sequences in which the wall appeared to shatter, crumble or get blasted away. The music was enduring and unchanged, so familiar, and it was thrilling to hear it again, live, with such amazing visuals.

And, of course, the wall really did come down at the end. With one mighty shove the stage-prop bricks came tumbling apart to reveal the band playing behind it.

Then it was time to float home…

[Images are by Scott Strazzante of Chicago Tribune]

Monday, November 8, 2010

New York Marathon revisited (2010)

… and yay! to H.   who successfully ran his second NYC Marathon in a wind chilly as the air off the Arctic. This time he started on the lower level of the Verrazano bridge (and contrary to the legend that this band of runners is at the mercy of an unbidden shower from the guys peeing off the bridge above them, he mercifully escaped such an annointment).

The turnout was way bigger than last year — 45,350 entrants versus some 43,000 in 2009 — and the buzz was just as intense. Colourful flags from every country lined the last stretch of the race in Central Park; there were seating stands, water tables, barricades, tents, fire trucks, police vehicles. Trying to run in the park the day before the race was an obstacle course of magnanimous proportions — tourists, curious visitors and foreign runners checking out the route being the main stumbling blocks.

But on Sunday we were there to cheer all the runners on, many of whom looked particularly pained and tired this time around. It can’t have been for lack of support from the 2.5 million spectators and 137 bands along the course. Although it was a beautiful clear day, the cutting wind was evil. The NY Marathon is the largest and most complex in the world, crossing all five boroughs (starting on Staten Island and traversing Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and ending finally on Manhattan).

Twelve ferries and about 500 buses get all the runners to the start at an ungodly hour for a staggered race beginning that for many only gets underway after 10:00am (H. included). For an idea of the logistics involved, here are some fun statistics:

* 1694 porta-potties

* 2.3 million recyclable cups holding water and Gatorade

* 11 tons of trash collected afterwards

* 10 tons of sleeping bags, sweatsuits, gloves picked up

* 563 lb coffee beans for 45,00 cups of coffee

* 6000 volunteers

So woo-hoo! to H.  who came in only 10 minutes after last year’s time with a niggling groin injury, a salt-streaked face and gooseflesh from the cold. (4 hrs 28 mins if you really must know.)
Nothing that a couple of beers didn’t immediately fix. The champagne came later.

So … without further ado, here’s a pic of the champ (taken by our Dutch friend Yvonne). H. raised $2000 over and above his target for his charity, MMRF, who fund medical research to find a cure for the cancer Multiple Myeloma.

Looking strong, bro'!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Manolo Valdès & Broadway

Well, it was yonks ago that I posted the first pictures of this Spanish sculptor's amazing brass sculptures of abstract female heads carrying elaborate headdresses. Since Fall is fast approaching and the sun is sinking lower and lower in a chilly sky, myself and a friend decided to wander up Broadway with our cameras to capture their amazing graphic lines.

103rd Street & Broadway

137th Street & Broadway

148th Street & Broadway

Friday, October 1, 2010

my secret life

Okay, so now I have a confession to make.

Since I’ve been living in New York, I haven’t only been swanning around visiting museums, art galleries, movie theatres and yoga studios. To be true, my career as a writer and editor has foundered in a city suffering from a modern-style Great Depression and the revolutionising of print media by electronic readers, iPhones, Apple’s iPad and the Web … So I had to find something to keep me from going quietly and steadily insane – in spite of NYC’s attractions. A girl can only look at art and drool in SoHo’s high fashion stores for so long, y’know?

My only alternative was to start studying something. Now up to this point I’ve kept it all a great big secret because … well, because I didn’t want to be viewed as a flake. But, oh, what the hell, I’ve always been considered a little off the wall, and I suppose in this case it’s not gonna be that much different. So, I’ve committed myself. I’m going to have to tell you…

… For 18 months now I’ve been studying … okay, I’ll just say it right out loud.

Astrology. Yes, you heard right. And I have to confess I’ve been absolutely loving it. The joke is, I always used to say that in my next life I’d take up astrology. But somehow it’s come about that I’m delving into it in this life. To be frank, it’s been daunting, the glut of complex information quite overwhelming, and the maths and science much, much harder than I ever imagined. But I’m still here … 1½ years into a 4-year process. Don’t roll your eyes, that’s how long it takes to become a fully qualified astrologer. It’s not peanuts.

But instead of going into it all here, I’ll redirect you instead to my new astrology website where, for those who are as intrigued by it as I am, I take you on my exploratory journey through astronomy, science, mythology, mysticism, the planets and the zodiac signs.

And I leave you with a quotation from psychological astrologer Melanie Reinhart:

Astrology is an ancient and highly sophisticated map of the psyche that has survived translation into many different cultures over time.

Mario Batali and Eataly

New Yorkers LOVE their food. They consider themselves to be experts in the art of good eating, and perhaps they’re not far wrong considering the cosmopolitan nature of this city and the fusion of so many diverse ethnicities. It takes a lot to blow a New Yorker’s hair back, yet the latest foodie happening that has the Big Apple shaken and stirred is a 50,000-sq-ft space called Eataly. (Yes, of course it’s a play on Eat and Italy…)

The inspiration of a trio of well-known and much-loved Italian-American food personalities, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe, Eataly has the most perfect location in a very compelling area – the Flatiron district. Situated on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, opposite one of my top five favourite buildings in New York, the thrilling triangular-shaped Flatiron, this giant complex is food nirvana. (Just as a little background info, Seattle-native Batali once worked under London’s legendary chef Marco Pierre White. Among his revered restaurants, established together with the Bastianich team, are Babbo in Greenwich Village, The Spotted Pig in the West Village with chef April Bloomfield, and the five-star Del Posto in west Chelsea.)

But back to Eataly. Claimed as the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, I, to be honest, expected an enormous food hall – a cross between a deli and a well-stocked supermarket. I was so very, very wrong. This place is a sense-ation.

It’s visual, tactile, clamorous and noisy, and your nostrils are filled with aromas of freshly baked bread, aged Italian cheeses, prosciutto, bresaola and salami – the supreme richness cut through by a whiff of aromatic, freshly brewed espresso. It’s a wide-aisled, high-ceilinged, brightly lit warren whose every turn delivers a surprise. There are cheese counters, cured ham and roast meat counters, a coffee bar, fresh-rolled pasta, mozzarella hand-made before your very eyes, crumbly sticky sweet pastries. The bakery is piled high with floury, domed, flat, nutty, olivey, seeded, rye or sourdough loaves baked on the premises. There are shelves loaded with imported Italian fare, from wines to balsamic vinegar and olive oil to pickles and preserves to pasta.

Casual, open eating spaces have you drooling over the lucky individuals who’ve found a seat and are wolfing down pizza, pesto-coated pasta, mama's fresh soup, bruschetta and fish, or a platter of antipasto chased with a glass of spumante.

I haven’t even mentioned the fresh fruits and vegetables. Fat, shiny heirloom tomatoes bursting with vitamin C, apples so polished you can see your reflection, intriguing Brussels sprout trees (I didn’t know that’s how they came and I'm a farmer’s daughter?!), bunches of pungent basil, a tumble of orange and green and speckled pumpkins. Halloween is not so far away…

But be warned … when you do get your feet through the front entrance, be prepared for lots of pushing and shoving. It’s mighty crowded in there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

brooklyn brewery & williamsburg

One of the amazing things about New York City is how different its neighbourhoods are. Never mind the boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island); simply trawl through Chelsea, SoHo, the West Village or the Lower East Side – and that’s just for starters – and you’ll see how the vibe, the architecture, and the buzz changes.

So when a visiting friend showed an interest in touring a Brooklyn-based craft brewery (apparently it’s too big to call itself a micro-brewery), I went along for the ride. Beer’s not quite my thing, but the opportunity to visit a new neighbourhood is.
So we took the L subway train from Manhattan to the Bedford stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We instantly fell in love with the neighbourhood. Leafy, laid-back, with decidedly less din and traffic and honking horns than Manhattan, its buildings are mainly three-storey low rises with plenty of character. There’s a lot of russet-red brick and row houses in pastel colours with wavy decorative parapets. There’s also graffiti and street art and doodles painted on the sidewalks – the grittiness of innovation and cheeky boldness of the young up-and-coming arty set.

The Brooklyn Brewery on 11th Street is aptly situated in a raw brick factory-like space, and was positively humming with noise, laughter and beer-swilling visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. The hand-crafted beer is cheap (and delicious, so I was told) and the short but witty tour (half-hour) was free. You can also haul in your own food deliveries (stacked boxes of pizza were arriving by the minute), but we found a light-filled pub with pressed-tin ceilings, stained-glass windows and a modernised jukebox instead. It was a great way to fill the hole in our stomachs. And, of course, they served Brooklyn Brewery beer. Williamsburg, we’ll be back again!

You'll find this portrait underfoot, painted on the sidewalk. . . Genius.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

happy labor day!

So … the Labor Day weekend is upon us. I can’t quite believe it. An important marker in the US calendar, it’s the official signifier of the end of summer. Radiant fall, with its hot-spice colours, is a mere skip and a jump away.

We’ve been here for 18 months and it feels like home.

So just to celebrate, here are a couple more less obvious architectural icons of a city we never had to learn to love – we were addicted at first bite.

From über-modern to graceful historical…

I’m smitten with Apple’s ingenious glass cube on 59th St and 5th Avenue. You can either descend to its merchandise floor via the spiralling opaque-glass staircase, or take the elevator – a reinforced-glass platform that travels down a transparent cylinder cutting right through the centre of the cube.

Then there’s the main concourse of Grand Central Station at 42nd Street, with its iconic four-faced clock (made of opal and valued at around $10–20 million by Sotheby's and Christie's) and those beautiful windows where the light pours through, inspiring this famous black-and-white photograph below. (Just imagine, blackout paint applied to the windows during World War II was only removed in 2007.)

My favourite part of Grand Central is its restored ceiling (well, since late 1998, that is). Painted a turquoise-blue, it is studded with gold stars and mythological depictions of the constellations as imagined by the ancient astronomers. Painted in the late 1930s (artist: Frenchman Paul César Helleu), it had become blackened by what was believed to be coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic tests proved this to be tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke! You simply shouldn’t pass through the station portals without craning your neck upward to this marvellous celestial dome.

Oh, and don’t forget to linger at the front façade on 42nd Street to ogle at the elaborately carved trio of Minerva, Mercury and Hercules (designed by sculptor Jules-Félix Coutan), backed by a giant eagle, symbolising America. Aptly, Mercury, at the centre, represents commerce.

Photo of Grand Central celing: Arnoldius, Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I walked the Brooklyn Bridge!

Having friends to stay somehow gives us the right to act like tourists in our adopted city of New York, which, recently, we did. And what fun we had! Heeding the (good) advice of a guidebook, we took the express subway train (beneath the East River … aarggh!) to the first subway stop in Brooklyn, and then did the walk back over the bridge to Manhattan, with the sun at our back.

What fun! It was a cloud-free, hot summer’s day but a gentle cooling breeze guided us gently through the steel girders and artfully strung cables that make the Brooklyn Bridge the icon it is today. Great views across the East River and NYC’s downtown skyline, framed by the lines and squares of the bridge cables, made it quite thrilling, despite the heat haze. It’s only a 20-minute or so amble and was really worthwhile.

Here are the pics to prove that I was there…

Zooming in on the Manhattan Bridge through the heat haze

The Empire State through a shimmer of hot air

My love affair with architect Frank Gehry's buildings continues. I discovered this residential building is called Beekman Tower - 76 stories, with stainless steel ripples wrapping around the facade. He manages to make walls bend and curve with graceful ease. Here, Gehry said he was inspired by the drapery in Bernini's 17th-century marble sculptures.
This is another of Gehry's well-recognised buildings, the IAC building, resembling the filled sails of a sea vessel, as viewed from the Highline urban park - which once used to be a defunct elevated railway line. Today it has been transformed into a wonderful restrained, architectural, indigenous-planted walkway with benches, an amphitheatre suspended over the street and stylish lighting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

the NIA experience

In my efforts to revel in new experiences offered by this city of all possibilities (goodness knows, I have the time), I’ve discovered NIA.

No, it doesn’t mean Nixed in Action. But if you Google it, there are endless permutations (naturally) of this tiny acronym.

For one, it’s a briefer, sweeter way to negotiate round the weighty (and seriously important-sounding) Neuromuscular Integrative Action. It’s also a Swahili word for ‘the body’s way’, or ‘movement with intent’. The mind boggles. How did Swahili come to be mixed up in a dance movement practised in slick health clubs and dance studios at the other end of the world? Oh, and it’s a contraction of Now I Am (so they say).

But anyone who’s keen on giving it a try should know: your body coordination needs to be tiptop. Me? I don’t fall into this category.

To give you an idea, one NIA website warbled: ‘It blends dance, martial arts, yoga and healing arts to allow your child, athlete, warrior and dancer within to expressively emerge.’ Expressively being the operative word. To the rousing beat of a compelling piece of music, you begin (ideally) barefoot – to experience the feel of the ‘earth’ beneath your feet. It’s all very touchy-feely. (Nothing wrong with that, of course.) But New York being New York, there are many who shy away from dancing the light fantastic without trainers firmly tied to their feet. Far too many germs and infectious diseases, Ew …

And then comes the coordination bit. In between letting your body elastically ease and flow to the music, you’re required to do all sorts of cross-body arm actions that fly in direct opposition to your legs, which are hopping, leaping and cha-cha-ing across the floor. Yes, you start slow, and build on each move to create a coordinated string of moves. But just as I’ve mastered a particularly gnarly sequence, the NIA teacher’s already onto the next permutation, leaving me flinging arms into the air while the rest of the class is bent over to the floor.

And with mirrors, mirrors everywhere, my transgressions are reflected straight back at me.

Then there are the kicks and arm thrusts inspired by Tai Chi, Aikido and Tae Kwan Do, where you bellow out ‘Ha!’, a bit like the New Zealand rugby team do in their fearsome Maori haka. Leave your inhibitions at the door, please!

And there are times when the Swahili connection comes closer than you think. I’ve felt like an ungainly giraffe, neck hanging low, legs awkwardly askew, as I reach for the floor. I excel in the stretching, breathing bits, when I’m lying flat on my back on terra firma. Then there are the free dance movement sequences, where you’re encouraged to whirl around in your own way and to your own rhythm. Unfortunately, here my self-consciousness prevails. Despite the music, which is really good – from New Agey Enya to throbbing South American beats – I’m not that adept at losing myself in myself before a roomful of people. Even if Santana is cajoling me from a corner of the room.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

light and dark faces of the sky

The city's water towers are a ubiquitous sight on the New York skyline, and their contrasts can be quite marked. From the setting sun's bronzed light to the acrid, thick black smoke that billows daily out of rooftop chimneys - incineration? or a burning off of the oil from building heating systems?

A gilded shadow projected onto an apartment building

A Dickensian tableau

This is the air we breathe. . .

Monday, August 2, 2010

Battery Park whimsy

So … the absolutely glorious cooler weather this weekend – clear skies but little humidity and a ruffling breeze – stymied New York’s record books. The weather fundis were hoping to log July 2010 as the hottest since record-keeping started in 1869. It just took the final two days of July to skewer a potential world record.

It was so beautiful, we took a walk along the Hudson River at Battery Park, the reclaimed southern tip of Manhattan where the cycle-ways, promenades and little pockets of green park flank glass-encased apartment buildings with enviable views.

One of my favourite spots here is Rockefeller Park, because it’s peopled with a collection of wacky and utterly ingenious human and animal bronze characters by Kansas-born sculptor Tom Otterness. Giant and diminutive, witty and moralistic, the creatures subtly expose the vagaries of man and his tussle with money and capitalism. The sculpture collection, installed in 1992 and called ‘The Real World’, can be touched, stroked, stepped on, crawled over by kids (and they do), or simply marvelled at. Which we did.