On Friday, My College Roommate and I traveled to New York City to see our mutual friend and fellow Penn Stater, The World Traveler.
I call her that because she has always been more adventurous than the two of us. She spent a semester abroad in Manchester, has returned many times since, and takes jaunts around the world whenever she gets the chance. Most recently, she spent some time in Turkey. She currently lives in Manhattan.
We bonded in college over our mutual interests in British comedy and in music. So it seemed only fitting that we should see Spamalot, Eric Idle's musical, based loosely on Monty Python's Holy Grail, before the show closes at the end of the year.
Outside Penn Station (on Photobucket)
Before I go any farther, a quick note about the pictures in this entry. Since I've had dial-up users tell me that the photos on Flickr take too long to load, as an experiment I've also added links to the same photos on Photobucket. If you'd like, you can click on that, and it will bring the photo up on a separate page.
On Friday evening, My College Roommate was to meet me at my house, and then I would drive us to 30th Street Station in Philly, parking in the long-term parking. She had some trouble finding my place, though, ending up in a neighboring municipality. She called from her cell phone, and I gave her directions from there.
Since The Gryphon and I had checked out the lay of the land the weekend before, upon purchasing tickets, I knew where to park and where our platform went be. Everything went smoothly, and before long we were on the R7 Septa train headed for Trenton. We talked the first leg of the journey, then had to switch onto the NE Corridor NJ Transit train to New York City.
We weren't quite sure where we were going and asked a conductor, who pointed in a certain direction. A dapper businessman, probably a commuter, told us he was going to New York, so we followed him. The majority of the riders were also going the same direction. When we reached the correct platform, the businessman helped a couple other people who were confused about which train to take. He became a sort of voluntary ambassador for New York.
This is a big time of year for tourism in New York, and the New Yorkers know this, tending to be very helpful and gracious, at least in my experiences.
During the two-hour trip, I read Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones while My College Roommate tried to nap. Some women near us were flirting with the conductor, who was chatting with them as if they were old friends, though I thought they just met.
When we arrived at Penn Station, we followed the rush of people to the main lobby, where crowds of people were in the waiting area. We had some difficulty locating the restrooms, because the signage was confusing. When we finally did, there was a smoking trashcan right next to it. A man standing nearby with his family told us it was from a sparkler that some kids had thrown in the can. The police had just put it out with a fire extinguisher, hence the smoke.
We knew, then, that we needed to find the taxi stand to get a ride to our friend's place. As it turns out, we had incredibly bad timing, arriving just as a massive concert let out of Madison Square Garden, just outside. We had to fight through a stream of young people, who were walking briskly, in high spirits.
A number of concertgoers beat us to the cab stand, so we had to wait for nearly half an hour until we finally got a cab. I found it amusing that, on the one night I wasn't transcribing half of The O'Reilly Factor, the first billboard to greet us was a 20-foot high picture of O'Reilly.
In addition to the cabs, there were also bicycle rickshaws, or BicyTaxies, which could seat two or perhaps three people (if they're small), or one person and a medium-sized bag. We needed more room for our luggage; plus, I'm not sure they would have taken us as far as we needed to go.
Riding in circles near them was a guy on a bicycle, pulling several carts on wheels with things like a thermos. A hard-to-read sign was on the final cart, and his neck was festooned with I.D. badges, most of which were turned away and unreadable. He wore a cap and a puffy winter coat and looked like a strange, angry homeless person. Again and again, he circles past the coned-off area where the taxis and BicyTaxies pulled up, yelling at the cars about watching out for the bicycles. Either he was actually there to protect the bicycle rickshaws, hired to do so, or he was an eccentric homeless person who had an imagined bond with the BicyTaxies over their form of transportation and was a vigilante on behalf of bicycles.
As we got closer, we joked around, trying to keep our spirits up. The closest we got to a celebrity sighting all weekend was when I noticed that the woman getting into the cab by herself two people ahead of us, had a black cap pulled down over her hair and a black cashmere scarf completely hiding her lower face. But her eyes looked very much like Meryl Streep, and she spoke, in a lilting, voice with a slight accent, I imagined it could be Meryl Streep in one of her many roles.
But upon further reflection, I decided that even if she was wondering the streets of New York on a bitter cold night, trying to blend into the common folk, she was unlikely to have waited so long at a cab stand but would have instead called a private car.
The drive to The World Traveler's place was uneventful, but I was interested to see how much New York cabs had changed since I last rode in one, more than eight years ago. That cab had been a rattling wreck whose one exciting novelty was the recorded celebrity voice, asking passengers to buckle their seatbelts.
Now, the fleet had been updated, and we sat in comfort on fresh upholstery, watching a video screen playing snippets of commercials and scenes from NBC shows, a sponsored entertainment which we appreciated when we got stuck in traffic.
When we pulled up in front of The World Traveler's place, a former tenement on the Upper East Side, it looked like something straight out of the movies. Turns out I was right: they'd filmed part of Two Week's Notice in front of her building, and she had a picture of herself with Hugh Grant to prove it.
She buzzed us in, and as we entered the stairs to her four-floor walkup, I was reminded of Holly Golightly's place in Breakfast at Tiffany's, except that hers had a more open stairwell. Fortunately, The World Traveler had warned us there was no elevator, and we'd made efforts to pack light.
At her door, she greeted us while her friendly kitty, Ziggy, ran up. He is a Maine Coon and is as friendly as a dog, a long-haired bundle of love. Her studio apartment was the size of a really nice single dorm room at Penn State. In other words, I could never live there without also paying for long-term storage.
As soon as we put down our suitcases, she was pulling food out of her very small pantry. She laid out a smorgasbord of three types of cheeses, several types of crackers and chips, three types of olives, hummus, fresh vegetables and cookies. We uncorked the bottle of Korvel champagne My College Roommate had received for selling her house, which had been part of the process of finalizing her divorce. We toasted to her new life and to the three of us being together again.
She has a different schedule than us, so she was tired first. We pulled out the fold-out couch, and putting on her sleep mask, she fell asleep. The World Traveler and I stayed up talking for a little later, watching the end of Bridget Jones' Diary.
The next morning, the plan was to have some brunch and then a whirlwind tour of parts of New York before dinner and the play. I woke up when Ziggy knocked my glasses off the side table, for which I was actually grateful, because it was already after 9.
By the time all three of us were ready and discussing where to eat, The World Traveler noted that in just 15 minutes, a Belgian place would open that served a champagne brunch. So we watched an episode of TLC's What Not to Wear and then bundled up.
It was supposed to be a really cold day: 30 degrees, with wind chill factor into the 20s. We dressed accordingly. I wore a pair of thick gray wide-leg pants I'd just bought at NY & Company, along with a black sweater tank top, a purple cashmere V-neck, and my gray leather jacket. I also wore a new pair of dress boots which I knew were comfortable: I'd even walked the dog in them. I'd wanted to wear something I could wear all day long and then to the theater. The World Traveler had told us that people no longer dressed up to go to the theater, so we could go in whatever we were wearing.
The other two dressed similarly, in jeans and comfortable shoes, with a nice sweater. My College Roommate was having trouble fitting everything she wanted to take into her fanny pack, so The World Traveler lent her a shoulder bag. I didn't want to take my camera bag and decided to put my camera in my purse instead. Later, after shifting a few things in my pockets, I put it in my right-hand coat pocket, where it was protected and easily accessible.
We headed then for breakfast at the Jacques Brasserie, where we ordered the champagne brunch. This included a mimosa or a Bloody Mary, fruit salad or baked goods, our choice of eggs, and a small salad of microgreens. We ordered one baked good plate and two fruit plates, to share equally. For my egg, I chose L'omelette Au Champignons, a wild mushroom omelet served with home potatoes. They wouldn't make me an egg-white omelet, though, because they said their kitchen was too busy for special orders. The restaurant was small, about the size of many in Old City Philadelphia.
Considering that the meal counted for both breakfast and lunch, it was very substantial. It would last me easily until dinner.
As we began our tour, we walked first past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a number of artists were selling their works from tables on the sidewalk. The World Traveler and I both liked some acrylic paintings by an artist whose use of color and line reminded us of some late Roy Lichtenstein works. However, even though we talked loudly about wanting to buy one, he was nowhere to be seen. We moved on.
A couple stands later, we found an artist who did Chinese-style watercolors and prints. I loved a piece he'd done which looks like a Yin Yang with red and black elongated fish. Certain that my husband, The Gryphon, would love it as much as I did, and since it only cost $20 and included a simple black plastic frame, I bought it. The artist put it in a bag and gestured to an article that included information about his work. I jotted down his name, Du Yi-Changzai.
We began our real tour in the Great Lawn section of Central Park, just on the other side of the museum. As we walked, The World Traveler pointed out sites we might recognize from movies and television. One of the first interesting sites we visited was the Alice in Wonderland sculpture by Jose de Creeft, a popular attraction for children. The statue is complete with The Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit.
While I wanted to crawl up on her lap for a picture, as I'd seen another adult do, a little girl in a pink coat was climbing the statue with such hesitant effort that I finally just stood in front.
Another pair of adults, two large women with short haircuts, were not so understanding. One of them was loudly complaining about all the children on the statue. "Can't you see we're trying to take a picture?" she demanded. Clearly, this was someone who hasn't been around children very much.
When The Gryphon and I were on our honeymoon in Disney World, we frequently had to wait for children to stop playing on something, or for other tourists to snap their own photos. Generally speaking, if you're patient, you eventually get a chance. But as an adult, I always feel as if the children should take precedence, especially at the sort of sites that attract them, such as giant statues from children's books.
I took a close-up shot of her face so that you can get a better idea of the workmanship by artist Jose de Creeft.
Near that was a little pond, known as Conservatory Water, where people often sail remote-controlled boats, which people either rent from a small kiosk or bring their own. Nobody was currently doing so, probably because it was such a cold day. I took a photo of The World Traveler and My College Roommate at the pond. But somehow, the photo is gone. Maybe when I handed the photo to them to look, one of them accidentally pressed the "delete" button. This happens every once in a while. I knew we'd have plenty of more chances for photos that day, so even though I discovered it fairly quickly, I didn't request that we retake it.
From there, we walked past the Loeb Boathouse, which was closed for the season, and then into the South End section of Central Park, across the Bethesda Terrace and the famous Angel of the Waters Fountain, which was dry this time of year. I recognized it, though, from numerous movies and TV shows.
The interesting thing about seeing these sites in person was that they seem smaller than they do on the big screen, unlike the rockets at the Kennedy Space Center, which had seemed much, much bigger.
By this time, the three cups of coffee and the mimosa had caught up with me. The World Traveler told us there were restrooms near the fountain, and we walked through an area covered with mosaics that is the favored site of performance artist thoth, because of the acoustics (see a video of one of his performances here.) Of course, this time of year, he was not there, and the bathrooms were also locked.
We decided to keep walking through Central Park, keeping an eye out for restrooms as we did. Next, we walked down the tree-lined mall I've seen in numerous pictures, including, I think, a dance sequence from The Producers. No doubt, there are many more, as this ever-growing list of movies shot in Central Park can attest.
The World Traveler told us that every time she walks through the Mall, she thinks about the Penn State Mall and, by extension, the annual Mall Climb, a Penn State Monty Python Society event where we imitated the Oxbridge Road sketch from Monty Python, turning gravity 90 degrees and "climbing" the campus mall by dragging ourselves along on the ground. She said one of these days she'd love to get some people to climb the Central Park Mall.
Wildlife abounds in Central Park, but as we walked on the mall, we saw something which surprised us all: a turkey. The World Traveler suggested that maybe it had escaped from the Central Park Zoo. If it had, it was certainly trying to put distance between itself and the park, walking with purpose. As others realized what it was, they joined me in snapping photos. I imagined the turkey saying, "Oh, I'm only trying to live my life. Why won't they leave me ALONE?"
At the far end of the Mall, we found ourselves on Literary Walk, which features statuary of famous writers, such as Robert Burns and my favorite, a sculpture of William Shakespeare by John Quincy Adams Ward, placed in the park in 1872. I joked that I really mainly liked it because he was wearing tights.
Nearby was a little road where horse-drawn carriages again, pictured in many movies made their way. The horses and carriages were decorated for the holidays, some more elaborately than others, perhaps in order to attract fares. I didn't notice until afterwards that the passenger in this carriage was waving and smiling brightly at me. You can see it better in the larger version of the picture, accessible by clicking on the photo (which will take you to Flickr) or clicking on the Photobucket link below.
Next, we checked out the Wollman Rink, which was being resurfaced by a Zamboni at the time we arrived. It was kind of surreal: the holiday music blasting from the speakers, with hundreds of skaters and others watching the rink as a lone Zamboni with a Trump logo made slow circles on the rink.
Then, after listening to the rules of the rink, the skaters were finally allowed back on the ice.
When we tired of watching the skaters, The World Traveler and I climbed a large nearby rock, which afforded you an even higher view of the rink below. I got a picture of her at the peak, and My College Roommate took one of both of us from below, which I hope to be able to share eventually, once she sends me a copy.
Finishing our elongated loop through this section of the park, we checked out the famous statue of Balto, the Alaskan malamute, which was simply crawling with children. We also walked under the Central Park Zoo's animated clock, which features glockenspiel music and dancing animals every half hour. As we walked past the Central Park Zoo, we could see the only free animal exhibit: sea lions, who were frolicking in their tank.
As we exited the park, through the Doris C. Freedman Plaza, we saw three sculptures on display. A nearby sign identified them as part of the Living Sculptures series by Christian Jankowski, which are on display until May 1, 2009. My favorite was his Dali Woman, which is based on a common motif in his works: a women with several drawers coming out of her body.
The last thing of interest that we spotted in Central Park was the Sherman Monument of Tecumsah Sherman in Grand Army Plaza at the edge of Central Park South. The statue is by famed artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. To my amusement, another tourist was taking a photo of it from behind: not really the best angle for an equestrian statue, unless you like horse butts.
Still on our quest for a restroom, The World Traveler assured me that we could find one in one of the high-end stores on Fifth Avenue, which we entered upon leaving the park.
(Next time: Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Rockefeller Center)
Children (and adults) will climb on anything.