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.