Monday, May 9, 2011

Sunday in New York

Sunday was a perfect day in New York - Mother's Day - and a general feeling of benevolence on the sunny streets and in the crowded parks. Families everywhere, and lots of smiles.

First up we caught the C line train from 23rd Street up to 42nd St station, emerged into the sunshine and walked down to 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, to the Hell's Kitchen Flea Markets. They're set up on a vacant (demolished) block in amongst the towering apartments of this rapidly developing district of old industrial New York.

We had fun browsing the markets. They weren't remarkable, except for the setting and the opportunity to meet a couple of local artists/crafts people running stalls to raise a few dollars to fund their serious work.

Back at 42nd street station we caught one of the NQR line trains to 5 Ave station on Central Park South, and emerged to the fabulous sight of the East face of the historic old Plaza Hotel.

The Plaza Hotel now has a food hall and I was interested in exploring its lunch options. Up to now I have been super lucky with my timings in New York for things to do, but today it didn't quite work as the food hall is closed on Sundays!

It's never hard to find somewhere to eat well in New York (the real challenge is in finding a "bathroom") so after finding our lunchtime paninis on E58th Street we set out to walk the Museum Mile, up 5th Avenue, on the Upper East Side.

It was the perfect day for it. The sidewalk was crowded with well heeled families and couples in a holiday mood and the glimpses of nearby Central Park were of people having picnics, playing ball, cycling, sunbathing, painting (yes painting) under the dappled shade of the park trees or out in in the Spring sunshine.

We marvelled at the beautiful, and classically opulent old apartment buildings on 5th Avenue, where NY's old money is. And then we passed the magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).....

Rob could not resist the artisanal pretzel van outside the Met. He ordered a truffle and parmesan cheese pretzel; we're sure gonna miss our daily NY pretzel!

......and up to the amazing Guggenheim Museum between 88th and 89th Street....

where we turned around, heading East down the quietly opulent E88th Street....

and then South down Madison Avenue. 5th Avenue was all opulent residential. This Upper East Side end of Madison Avenue is all retail. Our jaws were dropping at all the lavish high end designer stores we pass. It went on and on: Lois Vuitton, Prada Fendi, Chanel, Coach, shop after shop. I have never seen such extensive lavishness and GREAT people watching opportunities too strolling the sidewalks or sitting and chatting in the ritzy little bars and cafes.

There were so many high end children's clothing stores too. I took a picture of this Brook's Brothers store window at the start of our walk because I thought it summed up the tastes of the polo playing younger set so well but this display was eclipsed by so many others I saw further along the street.

We'd seen this most beautiful building from 5th Avenue....

....and realised as we walked by, on Madison Avenue, that it was the Carlyle Hotel, where Woody Allen sometimes comes to play jazz in the bar, when he is in the mood.

But my goal was to see the Whitney Museum of American Art, on Madison Avenue between 74th and 75th Street. I'd got interested in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's campaign to promote American Art from early last century, on our tour of Greenwich Village where she had her original studio for artists. I wanted to see her collection and how it had evolved since the permanent museum was established as the Whitney, in the nineteen thirties.

I particularly enjoyed the Glenn Ligon: America exhibition on the 3rd floor. Ligon is an African American artist (another 1960 baby), and a Gay man, who works out of the Studio Museum of Harlem (which I knew about from our tour to Harlem). His work explores race and gender issues in contemporary America. One of his major pieces explored Robert Mapplethorpe's preoccupation with photographing black men. The whole thing was VERY interesting and thought provoking and well worth the visit.

We caught one of the NQR trains back to 23rd Street for a reviving cup of tea and freshen up before heading back up to 42nd Street for our next date - with the Harlem Gospel Choir, performing at the BB King Blues Bar and Grill.

We got there early to score good seats and found ourselves seated at the same table (cabaret style) with two women from Finland and Quebec (respectively) and a couple from St Petersburg, Russia, all tourists in New York. The rest of the audience was predominantly African American. The conversation over drinks and dinner was a very interesting prelude to a really great performance by 7 members of the Harlem Gospel Choir.

I still occasionally watch the performance of the (original) 1988 Harlem Gospel Choir doing that wonderful soulful version of "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" with U2 at their church in Harlem (St Luke's Baptist Church). It's even easier to watch now with Youtube. They do great tributes to Michael Jackson's music too - alongside all the gospel singing (although a lot of Michael Jackson's music has been influenced by soul and gospel anyway).

Emerging out onto 42nd Street at 11.00pm is quite an experience: crowds of happy people, bright lights flashing, noise and colour.

....all very well behaved too, with NYPD's finest showing their presence. Their beautifully trained horses are a great hit with the crowds.

We decide to walk back to W23rd street. It's an unforgettable experience making your way through the crowds and mayhem of Times Square at this time of the day - just another great NY experience!

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