USA New York City and Catskills

August 2016

I tagged on to Dave’s work trip to the New York office so we could go to the wedding party celebrations of Quique and Siobhaun. We first met Quique in a cafe in Hoi An in Vietnam in 2008…years later we remain good friends, also becoming friends with his parents George and Brigitte who live in the Catskills, upstate New York. We arrived at JFK, jumped in to a cab with a Rasta driver playing loud hiphop. He’d rigged up back seat aircon by taping a length of silver air-ducting to the aircon vents in the front and passing the ducting through the sliding glass window to the back seat.  This is why we love New York; mad, inventive and always loud. Drove to Quique’s Manhattan apartment then upstate with Quique, Siobhaun and their friend Billy for the 2 and a half hour drive to his parent’s place. They were working at their restaurant The Spy, preparing for the celebrations the following day.NYCCatskillsTheSpyQuiqueweddingparty2SiobhaunAfter a good night’s sleep kicking the jet lag/time difference we drove with Quique and Siobhaun a couple of hours to a farmer’s market for lunch, picked up the party cake then back to get ready. Over to The Spy with Nick and Tim, also staying at Brigitte and George’s in the guest house.  We caught up with friends of Quique’s that we’d met on previous visits to the Catskills. It was an eclectic group of people among them Quique’s marathon running friends, Billy, a Winter Olympics gold medalist, a former rodeo rider and Marshall Chess of Chess Records.

Nick, Billy and Tim.NYCCatskillsTheSpyweddingpartyNickBillyTimThe next day we relaxed by the pool at George and Brigitte’s. Tim and Nick still around. Great to have this time to catch up with people we don’t get a chance to see enough.  Later in the afternoon we headed back to The Spy restaurant to help tidy up, then driving with Quique and Siobhaun back in to Manhattan. NYCAug2016RobertoShannonSurprisevisitorsSo we checked in to The Ace around 8pm, logged on to the wi-fi and this photo (above) pops up on my whatsapp; Roberto and Shannon were in town from Tulum, Mexico! They’d been trying to reach us all weekend to surprise us on their way back from Canada, not knowing that we were in The Catskills. They were leaving early the next day so we got hold of them, got changed and ran downstairs to The Ace bar to meet them for drinks. HUGE surprise to see these guys, we only had a couple of hours together but so glad we got to catch up and the biggest news of all, Shannon was pregnant! (they now have a gorgeous baby boy called Emilio). NYCAug2016BowieJulesMy friend Jules died whilst we were in New York. She’d gone in to a hospice the day we flew and my last text to her was about me visiting her when we returned. The cancer she’d been diagnosed with in March had taken her life by August.  Friends for over 25 years, Jules was a massive David Bowie fan.  As I was walking through Manhattan I saw this Bowie photo in a gallery window…a poignant reminder of her. NYCAug2016DanAndreaLezaHighlineDave headed to work at the Sony office and I met up with old friends Dan and Andrea who re-routed their flight back home to Massachusetts to be able to spend some time with us in New York. We had lunch then set off on a long walk through the streets leading down to The Hudson River.  We walked along the Highline with views of The Standard Hotel and the Frank Gehry IAC Building, dropping down in to Chelsea market to the shops and food stalls then followed the river to the Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower is currently the 6th tallest building in the world; officially known as One World Trade Centre, the architect is David Childs.  Taller than the Empire State at 94 storeys, its total height is 1,776 feet, a reference to the year the US Declaration of Independence was signed.

The train station at ground Zero designed by architect Calatrava is the most expensive train station in the world. I love his architecture and there’s much about this building I admire, but it’s not worth the incredible overspend and I don’t believe the finished building is what he envisaged.  It looks heavy….a stunted pterodactyl with a clipped wing rather than a bird of peace in flight.  The interior is more impressive but occupied by a Westfield mall where it could have housed a magnificent soaring concert hall and art gallery.NYCCalatravastationPano
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The 9/11 memorial is two wells built on the footprints of the destroyed Twin Towers with thousands of names of the dead engraved around its edges.   The deep central wells recycle the constant falling water; it falls in to the dark and is pushed back up in to the light in a loop.  A  local friend commented that he felt it could be more uplifting rather than so entirely focused on death…and I understood his observations

We need to recover from tragedy. We should remember it, honour it, but recovery is vital.  I needed a path showing a move from despair towards hope. Perhaps the constant recycling of the water is that…but I was struck by the depth of the wells and how dark they were at the bottom.  It’s impossible to ignore the artistic interpretation of it.  James Turrell uses structures to draw your focus to a condensed area he wants you to observe, to really see;  like a specific slice of sky with passing cloud.  The memorial will always draw different reactions; how we mourn atrocity is too deeply personal…and affected by immediate experience.
NYCflatirondinnerwalkDanAndrea
We met up with Dave after work and went for Japanese food. Beautiful evening, really warm and sunny, the Flatiron Building looking magnificent in the evening light.NYCAug2016DanAndreaJapanesedinner
An early morning start walking from Ace Hotel down towards the Flatiron where I had breakfast at a Le Pain Quotidien. There is a female author next to me in Pain Unpronounceable; having a meeting with a middle aged fashionable New York PR woman. They are discussing the author’s talking points for possible interviews on TV etc. The PR is warning her about ‘extremely mean Vegans’ who she shouldn’t get on the wrong side of but the subjects of penis in heterosexual relationships and religion…and women choosing career over babies, have come up too. The PR woman is choking on some chilli but has recovered to discuss the ‘Wheelhouse of her Business’. What the f**k is this book about? NYCFlatiron1
Met up with Lester who is a friend of Dan’s and also an official ‘Big Apple Greeter’. He offered to run me around some of his favourite things in the city.  He showed me the Lichtenstein artwork at 42nd Street subway station.  Lichtenstein was born in New York in 1923 and spent his last years here. Times Square Mural reflects his career, with references to and variations on, his earlier works.  NYCLichensteinSubwayLester
Next stop was the Anna Wintour curated Manus x Machina Exhibition at The Met.  It featured examples of hand created fashion incorporating fine details such as embroidery… and juxtaposed it with fashion created by machines and 3D printer technology.  An extraordinary exhibition.

Lester showed me some of his personal highlights at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Blue Bed covered in blue silk damask originally from Hampton Court in England. NYCTheMetBlueBed
The wonderful Ingres painting of the Princesse de Broglie. One of Lester’s favourite paintings.  The detail and colour in the silk gown reflects the light in the painting gives it a three dimensional quality that glows.NYCTheMetIngres
After The Met, Lester took me to the Baccarat Hotel.  A study in opulence.  Baccarat crystal was founded in France in the small town of Baccarat in Eastern France when King Louis XV permitted the creation of a glassworks in 1764.  When it first began it produced windows, drinking glasses and mirrors until 1816 when they introduced their first crystal oven.  It became famous for its elaborate chandeliers and perfume bottles and opened an American subsidiary in New York in 1948.  You need deep pockets to stay here but it’s worth breezing in whilst pretending to be a guest to view the huge crystal chandeliers and sculptures. Too bling for my taste but I appreciate the craftsmanship.

A wander around Central Park in glorious sunshine then Lester left me to head back downtown on the M1 bus.

Next day, Dave went to work and I hit the streets for a 12 mile walk around the city in sunshine…using a pretty useless map saved to my iphone, but it was fun asking directions and finding my way around. The city is a huge grid so it’s pretty straightforward to navigate. My favourite areas of Manhattan are the Lower East Side, Soho West Village; older buildings and tenements, fire escapes and graffiti, these areas still retain a lot of original character.

I visited the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street which is well worth the ticket price for a guided tour and history of New York’s immigrants who built this remarkable city.  A variety of guided tours, the only way to visit, offer different experiences of life in a typical tenement building from the mid 1800s onward.  I joined the tour ‘Sweatshop Workers’ which recounts the life of people who made a living from the garment trade at the turn of the century.  There were two other tours and the set up is so impressive I’d love to come back to take each one.  I looked in their great book shop and then took a walk along Orchard Street with its small boutiques and places to eat. Tenement Museum

New York is a walking city and 12 miles later I was knackered…but it’s the first time I’ve walked it on my own and I loved it.  One last night out with old friends Kat and Jon…a late night visit for cakes at Veniero’s Pastry established in 1894 and with the largest cake menu I’ve ever seen whilst discussing what we would do with the $127 million Lottery jackpot if we win it – hah!

More information
The Catskills Upstate New York https://www.visitthecatskills.com
Architect Santiago Calatrava https://calatrava.com
Walking The High Line https://www.thehighline.org
Tenement Museum https://www.tenement.org
The Baccarat Hotel New York https://www.baccarathotels.com
Artist Roy Lichtenstein https://lichtensteinfoundation.org

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