Ballet in Bryant Park

The first time I saw ballet performed was an exhibition in St. Petersburg many years ago. The performances were brief but spectacular, especially the leaps of the male performers. I had never seen anything to equal it, but it did not trigger a passion to see more. Indeed, I found the length and pace of the traditional ballets I later saw as a bit much, though, again, the artistry and sheer physical power of the performers was almost supernatural.

When we arrived in New York, one of the obvious benefits of our location was Lincoln Center, literally a few blocks from our apartment. And, miraculously, within months, the one ballet I really did want to see, Stravinsky’s The Firebird, was scheduled for the Metropolitan Opera House. The added treat was entitled AFTERITE, danced to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, one of my favorite pieces of classical music, with Misty Copeland to boot! As a side note, we were so excited to see all this that we sprang, first time ever, for box seats. They turned out to be cramped and difficult for viewing unless you were in front row or elevated third row (we weren’t). I was also interested to observe that in order to enter the box at any time, an attendant, usually nearby, had to unlock the door. I kept thinking of Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. As a further and final side note, we didn’t much care for AFTERITE. Misty Copeland’s amazing talent was largely wasted as her role involved more standing and walking around the stage than dancing.

But I digress. All of the above being true, I remain an uninformed, inexpert observer of ballet,  but still awed by the superhuman effort, grace, athleticism and artistry of the dancers. So, facing Friday night with my wife out of town on business, I went to Bryant Park for what was advertised as a “A Night of Ballet, including a Master Class led by Cynthia Harvey, Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theatre Onassis School, a discussion of personal histories with two ABT Company dancers and performances by three local New York City ballet companies.

Bryant Park shares with the New York Public Library the rectangle bounded by 5th and 6th Avenues and West 40th and 42nd Streets. There is a lot going on there all the time. See http://bryantpark.org/

Arriving early, I snagged a seat in the first row, on the stage side of the rope separating the walkway from the Lawn in front of the Fountain Terrace. After the Master Class, in which I did not participate [contain your amusement] and the discussion, the first group of dancers came onto the stage. The first good shot I managed to get is the featured photo at the top of this post. There is nothing meaningful I can say about the extraordinary talent of these young dancers except that I was mesmerized. Rather than pretend to be a critic, for which I am, as noted above, grossly unqualified, I will let the photographs speak for themselves.

I’m just going to show a small sample of the shots I took that night. The first group, Continuum Contemporary/Ballet, danced Concerto Geloso to the amazing music of Vivaldi. The second “group” is just two dancers, from Doug Baum & Artists performing Tangle, and the final group is Da’Von Doane & The Artists of the Shift performing Dances for Brass: Sacred and Profane. These photos do not do full justice to the performance because they lack the music and the continuity of the moves, but I think you’ll get the idea.

 

 

Continuum Contemporary/Ballet

  Choreography: Donna Salgado

 Dancers: Laura DiOrio, Dorothea Garland, Shoko Fujita, Donna Salgado,

 Vanessa Salgado

Doug Baum & Artists

Choreography: Doug Baum

Dancers: Doug Baum, Katie Currier

Da’ Von Doane & The Artists of the Shift

Choreography: Da’ Von Doane

Dancers: Malik Berry, Daniel Cooke, Paunika Jones, Cortney Key, Courtney Cochran

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains and … Chaos

Imagine this scenario — you arrive at the airport, any airport, check in, pass through security and then … you enter the large central space with all the other passengers and their carry-on bags, children, pet carriers, shopping bags, briefcases, etc. and you wait. And wait. And wait some more. You and everyone who is paying attention, which is fewer and fewer people as time passes, stare hopefully at the large electronic board mounted near the ceiling. You wait some more as your attention begins to wander.

Then, without warning, the information on the big board changes and a voice emerges from the speaker system announcing that your flight will be boarding immediately at Gate 1. In keeping with frequent airport design practice, Gate 1 is the furthest gate from where you are standing, down a long concourse full of other nearly hysterical travelers trying to line up according to their station (you know, first class, business class, Ruby, Platinum, Kryptonite, Silver, etc. followed by people with no station who, in earlier times, would have been placed below decks in steerage. Now, in the Age of Flight, they are merely put in window seats in the Coach section near the rest rooms.

They board last. If they bought the latest airline fare “innovation,” they may not place carryon bags in the overhead compartments. They didn’t understand this, but now they do. Seasoned travelers on the flight hate people who are trying to save money and are uninformed. There is congestion in the aisle as the flight attendants frantically try to get everyone seated with bags stowed, large electronics off “so we can have an on-time departure.”

The airport “cattle call” I have described is not, of course, reality, at least not until you board the plane. That’s why I started with the word “imagine.” But this is the reality of a train trip in New York City starting at Penn Station. The track announcements are awaited by the gathering crowds in the center hall of the station. They are posted on the centrally placed schedule board more or less at the same time an oral announcement is made over the general din that pervades the place most of the time.

The crowd then surges toward the named gate and forces its way down the escalator to the track below. curbed.com says that about 650,000 commuters pass through Penn Station daily so it is not hard to imagine the scene. In the Amtrak section of the station, there are 27 gates, accessed through 14 gates/escalators, about half of which are designated “east” and the other half “west,” so it pays to no your directions. Still, your chances of being trampled are pretty good unless you are quick on your feet and can handle your luggage adroitly. If not, you would be wise to hook up with the Red Caps in the Amtrak Waiting Area.

The Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit also serve Penn Station. If you’re good with maps, you can see a visual layout of Penn Station at https://bit.ly/2JbpdXS but you have to experience it to believe it.

Some of the “storied” history of Penn Station can be found at https://bit.ly/2wU3I7h along with the “plans” for its future. I am already a cynic and I’ve only lived here six months. But I’ve used Penn Station dozens of times over the years so my cynicism is at least somewhat justified.

One must wonder why they can’t determine the track assignments at least somewhat in advance of a train’s arrival. I have asked the Red Caps a few times but never got an answer that made sense to me. It is the age of computers, after all, though I suspect Amtrak’s computers are just plain aged. Forewarned is forearmed, so be prepared. And just be glad the railroads don’t run the airlines.

Footnote:  If you are coming on Amtrak into Penn Station from, say, Washington, you have a different issue. First, you will exit the train (minding the inevitable gap between the train and the platform) and, usually, take the escalator up to the main hall of the station. Then your challenge is: take a taxi or take the subway? If subway, you just follow the relatively obvious signs to the subway station you want. If you want a  taxi, you face the question whether to exit at 8th Avenue or 7th Avenue. Bear in mind that 8th Avenue runs one-way going uptown and 7th Avenue is one-way downtown. Also, the never-ending construction around Penn Station may alter the location of taxi stands, so be prepared for that surprise too. But, hey, you’re in New York!

Hey, I’m Driving Here!

I recently returned from a trip to Honolulu. I had accompanied my wife who was making a speech at a conference there. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.

My wife began her speech by suggesting that, contrary to what instinct tells us, Honolulu and New York City have a number of things in common. Both are on islands, both have tall buildings and both have lots of tourists. And both have poke shops. Poke, for the uninitiated, is pronounced “po kay” with the accent on ‘po’. It is a

“preparation of chopped fish, seasoned with sea salt dried in the sun; limu (seaweed), giving it another layer of texture and flavor; and inamona (roasted and crushed kukui nut, or candlenut), lending an oily richness.”

That, according to CNN Travel. https://cnn.it/2KK4LJE Also per CNN, with whom I am loathe to argue, on this subject at least,

“the most popular poke these days is cubed, raw tuna tossed with soy sauce, sesame oil, raw onions, scallions and red chilies, but Hawaii’s seafood counters offer plenty of variety. Flavorings may include wasabi, spicy mayo, kimchi or oyster sauce, and the seafood ranges from salmon to clams to raw, chopped crab — shell and all.”

Re eating chopped crab shells, to each his own, I suppose. The real point is that there are poke restaurants here and there in New York City.

There is, on the other hand, a fundamental distinction between Honolulu and New York City. I refer to the habit of drivers in The City, to honk their horns incessantly at the slightest provocation or, in many observed cases, no provocation at all. The honking goes on 24 hours a day in some parts of town. You will not, however, find this in Honolulu. The aloha spirit has imbued Hawaiians with an innate resistance to honking their horns and engaging in the practice is seriously frowned upon.

You, no doubt, will immediately think of other distinctions between Honolulu and New York City, but for present purposes, stick with me on horn honking. Because the practice is virtually universal among NYC drivers and intrudes into your unprotected consciousness whether you want it to or not. Like unprotected sex, the effects of prolonged exposure to horn honking can stay with you for a long while. After a few months of this punishment, I concluded that the practice warranted some deeper thought.

For example, under what circumstances and for what purposes, do New York City drivers honk their horns? Are there different honking techniques that signify something that is worth knowing or at least attending to? Herewith the answers you’ve been waiting for.

Circumstances first. Based on extensive, though obviously not scientific, observation, horn honking in NYC has become an autonomous response to driving in traffic. It happens for reasons about which I suspect many perpetrators are unaware. They may even be unaware that they have honked. It just seems to happen.

I have seen/heard vigorous, often extended honking (as in, minutes of uninterrupted beeeeeeeeping) when:

  • Light changes and car in front hesitates one second before moving out
  • Car is approaching pedestrians crossing against the light
  • Car is approaching pedestrians crossing with the light
  • Turning vehicle is blocked by pedestrians exercising their right-of-way; driver behind goes berserk
  • Traffic moving too slow
  • Traffic not moving
  • Vehicles stopped to let out/take in passengers
  • Vehicle changing lanes, with or without signal
  • Street fair — traffic not moving at all [9th Avenue shut down as I write, cross streets at a standstill & horns a’blazing. Note: street fairs are common on NYC weekends, yet each time seems like the first time for many drivers]
  • Vehicle is blocking an intersection — the worst offense; serious serial and continuous honking follows

Those situations share some common features, the clearest of which is futility. Nothing much changes in response to the honking, except the relative peace and quiet of the immediate vicinity.

And, honkers, especially the taxi drivers which seem omni-present throughout the congested parts of The City, appear to simply honk out of frustration, not really expecting any behavior to change. Honkees, understanding that there is not much they can realistically do to relieve the honker’s frustration, simply ignore the honking. Everyone seems to understand this and yet the honking continues.

As for the deeper causes, well, that’s complicated. Watching a lot of people repeat a behavior with no apparent hope of seeing anything change is itself somewhat disturbing. Pedestrians here, officially, have the right-of-way. They know it and, being New Yorkers or tourists unaware of their surroundings, exercise it.

Commonly, a car will approach an intersection green light with turning signal on and pedestrians, also with the green light, will just walk right out in front of the car. It is unusual for that first car to honk at the pedestrians who, after all, have, officially, the right-of-way, which fact everyone knows and more-or-less accepts, unless they don’t. But the second car in line, as suggested in the above list, often lays into the horn, knowing full-well that the pedestrians are not going to hurry, at least no more than “New York normal,” to clear a path for the cars and that the car in front is helpless to change that. It’s as if the second driver simply wants everyone to know:  I’m here and I’m not happy!

And maybe that’s the root of the matter. In the overcrowded, seemingly indifferent world of urban living, people just want their existence and their suffering to be acknowledged. They honk to say “hey, I’m driving here!” Compare Dustin Hoffman’s famous line in Midnight Cowboy.

The problem is compounded by modern technology. Look at any crowd on the street and chances are a large percentage will be using some form of sound-blocking or displacement technology. This technology enables pedestrians to block out much of the urban background noise by either streaming music directly into the ears or enabling a conversation to occur with another person elsewhere. The telltale clue are the now ubiquitous earphone wires or the white wireless “ear plugs” sold by Apple. It is also common to see young people with full size noise-cancelling headphones made by Bose, Beat and others. These devices permit a degree of near total dissociation from everyone around the wearer.

No wonder drivers feel they are not being acknowledged. Their only hope is to sound blast their way through the resistance forces thrown up against them by modern technology. So, in the end, the cause of much of the honking in New York City may simply be traceable to the isolationist tendencies of young people selfishly seeking solitude among the chaos that surrounds them. I knew it was them all along.

Hidden Gems of New York – Part 1

I have titled this post as Part I because there are some other “hidden gems” in The City that I intend to visit and report about when the weather changes. Meanwhile, though, there is this place that you might well just walk past without noticing its presence. This is partly because the entrance on Central Park South at Fifth Avenue is about as nondescript as a doorway to paradise can be:

The other reason to miss it may be that it is “in” the famous Plaza Hotel, opened in 1907, renovated in 2008, the “home” of Eloise, the fictional 6-year old in the Kay Thompson novel, Eloise: A book for precocious grown-ups. A short version of the extraordinary history of this property appears at http://www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york/hotelhistory/.

If enter through the door pictured above, you can see the opulent lobby of the hotel through the glass door to your right. You go down the escalator to the food hall.

to find a bit of a wonderland in the middle of The City: Warning: just looking at this stuff can make you gain weight.

For caviar lovers:

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Donut dippers:

 

 

 

 

 

Cakes!

 

 

 

 

 

Cupcakes:

 

 

 

 

 

“Deli” stuff:

 

 

 

 

 

Other stuff:

Places to sit:

 

 

 

 

 

There is also a crepes bar where you can, among other things, get breakfast.

Be aware that this place is not cheap. These are not food cart pastries. But, as the photos suggest, it’s pretty fine if you are in need of something sweet. Which I always am. Just don’t miss the door.

New Yorkers – Hostiles or What?

Based on four months of moving around New York City, I now feel equipped to address the age-old question whether New Yorkers are basically “hostile” or are they just “direct,” as many claim. I am prompted to address this, in part, because I recently received a report of an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which encompasses New York, Connecticut and Vermont. In the legal profession, the Second Circuit is generally regarded as very influential because it decides a lot of important cases. But even the opinions on lesser matters can be revealing.

A case in point, and it’s a doozy, is Wright v. Musanti, decided April 13, 2018. The opinion consumes 25 pages and can be read, by those with stamina to slog through long discourse on court jurisdiction, here: https://bit.ly/2EXSyhf  For”” the rest of you, and apropos of the central idea of this post, this brief description will suffice:

Wright cut in front of Musanti as they were walking to their respective Manhattan offices during rush hour. Musanti responded by kicking Wright’s legs, and a verbal and physical altercation ensued. Musanti pressed criminal charges, telling the police that Wright was the initial aggressor, but the district court, relying on video footage and the testimony of both parties, found that Musanti had been the initial aggressor and had given false information to the police. Musanti was found liable for the battery, assault, and false arrest of Wright. The district court awarded Wright nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages (totaling $15, 001). The Second Circuit affirmed, upholding findings that Musanti gave false information to the police by failing to inform them that she initiated the physical contact, and by intentionally downplaying her aggressive conduct and that in requesting that the police press charges, Musanti had induced the police to arrest Wright, because Wright likely would have been released but for her request. It was within the court’s discretion to find that conduct amply egregious to merit punitive damages. [Justia.com summary at  https://bit.ly/2HbSNLU]

Ouch. The actual opinion elaborates the facts more deeply but I will leave that to those with the curiosity to look at the actual opinion.

I do not for a moment suggest that the conduct described here is typical. Indeed, I am sure it’s not. In my own encounters with New Yorkers on the streets and in shops, I have found them, for the most part, to be helpful and often quite friendly. New Yorkers are indeed “direct” but this should not be confused with “hostile.” It is part cultural and partly, I speculate, a product of the time pressure that everyone seems to feel about almost everything. There are, for example, usually long lines in store check-outs, carry-outs and diners at popular times. People generally seem to feel they have no time for small talk. It’s “what do you want?” and “wait here.”

The key, I believe, is to not presume aggression and to smile a lot and even crack wise just a bit. I am not a gifted humorist but I generally can get a laugh or at least a smile. Sometimes, just shaking your head in an empathic gesture can draw a positive reaction from a worker who has just been disrespected by a customer in a hurry and short on manners.

On the streets, as I have noted before, I am generally the slowest walker (some elderly, of which there are many in The City, are slower than me – I’m talking about those not obviously encumbered by age or other infirmity}. It’s generally wise to stay to the right, but people in a hurry will sometimes pass you on the right even if it means going out into the street.

There is also a lot of crossing-in-front-of-you going on. People emerge from doors right onto the sidewalk as if there could not possibly be anyone walking there, when the reality is that always people are always walking by. It is also common to have people move diagonally across intersections to, apparently, save a few steps by avoiding right angles. They usually are moving faster than everyone else and yield to no one. This is expected and accepted. Those obsessed with “hurry” instinctively commiserate with others similarly afflicted.

The same is true for bike lanes. We had some bike lanes in Virginia but in the urban space of New York City, bike lanes are a critical element of commerce. Delivery men, mostly men, on bikes of various descriptions, roar by in expectation that pedestrians will not be in their way. They often move fast, with various forms of cargo on their backs, on racks, on the handle bars or even in plastic bags held in their teeth. You must remain situationally aware of the bikes at all times, as much as with the automobile traffic. [I will address the practice of horn-honking in a separate post]

All that being true, actual physical contact is rare. Not infrequently, people passing in tight spaces will say “excuse me” and if you yield to them so they can pass, they often say “thank you.” What more can you ask?

Big Disappointment Saved by a Walk in the Park

Spring has arrived and an old man’s thoughts turn to … a walk. We decide that the prospect of sun and 75 degree weather is the perfect day for a picnic in Central Park. We’ll take the subway to 79th Street, walk to Zabar’s, a well-known emporium for New York foods, get a box lunch and walk to the park for a picnic. Plan A.

While waiting for the train, we were treated to this young man prodigiously playing complex classical music on his electric piano;

This kid can flat out play! After each piece he would quickly stand, stiffly bow without expression and sit to resume playing. Sad to see such a talented young person playing for tips in the subway, but we showed our appreciation for his gifts with loud applause and money for the hat. The arrival of our train interrupted our reverie but it was a great start to the day.

We arrived at Zabar starving so we decided to eat lunch there. It’s a small place but we found seats and had a nice lunch.

Then we went next door to the Zabar market. This is the sign we saw there:

My wife and I traversed the store twice and filled a basket with about $100 worth of goodies, planning to have them delivered to our apartment later, so we could continue our plan to walk through Central Park. We asked the checker up front to confirm that they would deliver to us on West 59th Street, given the slight ambiguity in the sign’s meaning. I read it to mean that delivery was $6 but if you ordered more than $75 worth, you could get delivery free within the described area. That’s why, I thought, there was a line below the $6 Flat Delivery part of the sign.

Wrong. The checker called the manager over and, after we explained that lived one short block beyond the southern boundary described on the sign, he said “no, we don’t deliver to West 59th.” Wow, for one block, which isn’t even occupied for the most part (60th in that area is mostly commercial), they declined $100 or more in business for which we would have paid the $6 if necessary, plus the loss of all future delivery orders we might have purchased there. An odd business decision, in my judgment, but there it was.

Had it been up to me, I would have just left the basket of food and walked out, but my wife kindly retraced her steps and returned everything to its original location. We couldn’t un-slice the Black Russian bread, but they presented no argument.

Not to be deterred, we walked to and through Central Park on the most glorious day of the year so far, as attested by the massive crowds on foot and bicycle, snoozing on the grass and just soaking in the scene. We saw beautiful spring flowers.

Many people rented row boats and cruised the lake with some Canada Geese for company.

We came upon this jazz band laying down some great trad jazz tunes to a small audience of admirers;

More money for the hat. We sat in the sun and absorbed the music, then walked toward home, only to pass this scene in the Sheep Meadow:

I first I thought it was a protest march of some kind. How could I have missed that? But, no, just a lot of New Yorkers soaking up the rays and having a relaxing Saturday afternoon doing not much of anything. No rushing.

So, as puzzling as was the Zabar manager’s decision to refuse to deliver our order one extra block, our perseverance was well rewarded in other ways.  Alas, the weather forecast for Sunday is rain and 44 degrees. We shall remain upbeat, notwithstanding the cruelties of New York weather. The next day, as the saying goes, is another day.