NYC: Day 3
"And on the seventh day He rested ..."
Rosie, MaceVindaloo, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGrrl, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt, Susu, Csillag
But it was only our third day, and it was Sunday. A weekend day. A slow day. A rest day. In New York City? NO WAY! Well ... maybe a slower day ...
It was not a weekday so most of the natives did not have to hustle off to work, but we did have to get up and moving to make it to church services on time. We played dress-up today because our agenda included some high-falutin' places that actually required or "encouraged" that we do so if we did not plan to get ejected before having a chance to give them the Wookieehut once-over. While we were playing dress-up, we sang Lerner and Lowe's "Get Me to the Church On Time," and played at being members of Alfie Doolittle's wedding party! We decided to pile into cars today; Sunday parking rules are less strict in the city, and more streets are available for casual parking. Violating these rules can, at best, result in a $75 parking ticket; at worst, your car gets towed and you have to go way the heck to 10th Avenue to an impoundment area set on old docks. It's so large that you have to take a shuttle van to your car when you pick it up. Also, they only take cash for the $200 + parking ticket fee; as a "courtesy" they've installed an ATM cash machine right next to the claim window. (What sweet people, harumph!)
Some of us chose the public transportation options. Note that most cities cut back on their weekend and non-rush hour schedules so severely that it's really not worth opting for those trains and buses to get you around. New York does have shorter and fewer trains and buses on the weekends, but not so much so that it's arduous. In fact, these systems run 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, and the in-city services always cost the same no juggling different rates for different time or area zones. (You can park your slow-moving construction vehicles on the street too ... you won't even get stares as long as you put your coins in the meter, or display the ticket you've bought at the more modern "MuniMeter" which instead of "muni" as in "municipal," the residents tend to pronouce as "money," for obvious reasons!)
If you're a pre-Vatican II Catholic, you cannot eat before receiving Communion. This results in some odd false-memories or fantasies for some, like communion wafer sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly, or in California dip. One of us remembers having to explain to her parents that she was allowed water before Communion, being that she underwent First Communion after Vatican II was initiated. It was a difficult thing for some to accept, we guess. But nowadays, one is allowed to eat up to an hour before Communion, so we decided that we should keep body and soul together and went to Fifth Avenue Deli for breakfast. They have big mugs of coffee, fluffy pancakes, griddle-cooked omelettes, and a very nice waitress who admired our finery. We did appreciate that she noticed we were dressed up! We also appreciated the good food, and the short two-block walk to the church, in plenty of time for services.
Church of the Incarnation is an Episcopal church, so we didn't really have to worry about the 1-hour pre-Communion limit except for our own personal reasons. It's an unusual church building, but not for it's neo-Gothic architecture; it a gorgeous pink-stone building, but there are apparently lots of variations of this style all over the Northeast USA and in the UK. The building is unusual for it's collection of same-era, different-artists stained glass windows, and for it's statuary, created by some of the greatest sculptors and monument-crafters in American history. In addition, the building is not cluttered, as many churches tend to be. This happens when the faithful pay for expensive gifts or have them brought over from Europe and the Holy Lands; the church is obligated to display them. It's the equivalent of a doting grandmother showing all her children's and grandchildren's drawings on the refrigerator, or the gifts they bring on various tradition-mandated holidays or birthdays. These things are reminders and a source of pride, and so it is for some churches.
Though there are many styles of art and stained glass in the building, but they are unified by the subdued background colors and placements on the walls. The sexton pressed us to not only get close to the art and windows, but to actually touch them! "Unless you touch the Tiffanies, you won't understand how special the glass is! And touch the others, you need to know!" He gave us self-guided tour booklets and made sure we touched the windows what a big contrast to other places who don't want you to do anything but what you're "supposed to," don't you think? For their collection and the way they treat and display them, Incarnation is a great cultural and art treasure, and we hope it will always be protected.
We'd decided when we were planning to have brunch at a café which is located in the Byzantine-styled St. Bartholomew's Church. We hadn't intended to have too big a breakfast at Fifth Avenue Deli, knowing we'd be coming here, but we got too hungry earlier. So we walked up Park Avenue for a bit of exercise before our brunch date and for the first leg of our midtown sight-seeing.
Park Avenue was once a train approach to Grand Central, thus its width and that median strip which is normally planted with trees, flowers and public art these days. You can still see remnants of the train tunnels, and the overpasses which were built to allow other traffic to go around Grand Central Station, as opposed to through it. That roadway also circumnavigates the MetLife Building, the Phillip Morris Building, the Grand Hyatt, and goes over what is now called Pershing Square, the short bit of street underneath the auto overpass. On the other side is the Helmsley Building, and the roadway actually goes through it. This real estate group once owned many midtown properties, including the Empire State Building; nowadays, they are mostly known for their exclusive Manhattan hotels. The building was meant to mirror Grand Central's statuary at its entrance you can see the similarities.
Speaking of exclusive Manhattan hotels, we walked past the Waldorf-Astoria, and some of the Hutties stopped and stared this place is real?!? Yes, it is, and we went in to peek. Believe it or not, as long as you behave yourselves, the grand hotels don't mind tourists coming in to look and admire. We turned the flashbulbs off the cameras, so as not to disturb others. We also learned that old buildings have beautiful bathrooms some appointed with large mirrors, fireplaces, vanities ... it's worth looking into! This is also where one Huttie decided she'd never seen such big and beautiful chandeliers all in one place, and we started taking photos of light fixtures thereafter.
The hotel is not only where the Waldorf salad (which sounds gross: apples. walnuts, mayo on lettuce cups, but it's actually very good), but as the height of cool (as in diamond-icy) service. Emperors, kings and queens stay here, taking advantage of separate secret entrances. When the President of the US was last here, a train was kept fired up directly under the hotel for a quick and unexpected getaway. There is a sub-station of Grand Central here very clever! Flags of foreign heads fly over the entrance in honor of those who choose the Waldorf-Astoria as their home away from home.
Wonder if those dignitaries look out their south windows as see all those people under colorful umbrellas, enjoying brunch or supper next door at Café St. Bart's, a separate business situated on the large north terrace. The crowd was rather casual upper crust not the fashionistas one sees at night and downtown. These look like people who can afford the midtown residential rents, though!
After brunch, we used the bathrooms in the church, then snuck down cloisters to explore the building a bit. We opened various doors and found the main chapel behind one of them oops, better go in so it looks like we meant to do that!
The main chapel was smaller than you'd think it would be when you look at the outside of the building. The building is divided into many wings and there are many more rooms than you'd think too, as well as enclosed courtyards and secret gardens. It's an ad hoc mix of styles and art pieces; it's as if many people contributed their own favorite things and styles and the church was forced to find places to put them. The individual things are beautiful, and the many small chapels and prayer alcoves are really touching and inspiring, whether Russian or Greek Orthodox in style, Victorian, Medieval, Byzantine, or Moderne. In contrast to the Church of the Incarnation which keeps its collections in a more elegant and planned manner, St. Bartholomew's is more mixed in styles, more like your slightly batty rich grandmother's secret rooms.
There is a dry fountain on one side of the church which is structurally a staircase in a modern architectural style. There are beautiful trees, looking more twisted and tortured looking than spires, with lots of greenery shading the spaces beneath. The tables that make up the café are shaded by colorful canvas umbrellas. (If you think about it, this is a nice metaphor for the church concept itself.)
Why is there a commercially successful café here? When the US Episcopal Church was struggling about 30 years ago, many churches were threatened with sale or closure the most notorious case being "The Limelight" nightclub. To avoid that fate, St. Bart's sold its airspace to a developer to build a large building behind it. This concept of "airspace" is unique to NYC. The implication is that every square foot of ground has, as part of the ownership title, a certain amount of height volume belonging to it. So if you build a short building (churches are short), you have a lot of volume "left over in the bank," so to speak. Many churches and smaller buildings sold that space to neighbors on the same block a practice legalized by New York City in the 1980s for much needed cash. The new owners of the unused volume could then build taller buildings than they were otherwise allocated.
St. Bart's was one of the first churches to take advantage of this legislation, and its parishioners and other neighbors were shocked. Many abandoned the congregation, and at one point a new rector was desperately needed after the old one was fired. They made do for an extended period of time with interim rectors, but since then the parish has learned that they cannot continue to survive on their high-profile, exclusive, tax-free property without making more money than they could bring in with the service offering. Thus a bookstore, café, lunchtime concerts during the week, renting themselves to movie productions, etc. Despite all this, it's still a spiritual and holy place, and is an easy place to visit and meditate. God helps those who help themselves, after all.
It's too bad we were still really too full for brunch, but it was a pleasant sit-down-and-refresh-yourselves thing (we sort of followed the advice of Matthew's gospel, "Come all ye who are troubled and heavy-laden, and I will refresh you"), and a rather unique venue in this city.
We walked up the avenue, and made sure to stop and tour the "public spaces" of several office buildings open to the public. In addition to adding height to your building by buying airspace, a building's owner can negotiate with the city to create public space. The space on the ground floor equates to a larger number of cubic feet above. Thus the IBM Building, the Sony Building (originally the AT&T Building, and sometimes called the "Chippendale Building" for the keyhole shape on it's roofline, resembling Chippendale designed furniture), Trump Tower, the Citibank Tower, Phillip Morris Building, etc. all have spaces open to the public. They are lined with shops, have tables, chairs, plants, exhibits, and you can sit and rest, or do your homework, or read your paper, etc. free of charge. Some have turned into unique exhibition spaces or gallery extensions to museums. The IBM Building also had "notched out" a corner on the street, so the tall, black building actually does not rest on four corners on the ground! A design feature, for sure, but also a way to get more height to the building.
Donald Trump is a true New York City native, having grown up in Queens, where his father still owns many rental properties. He obviously loves the city and owns large pieces of it. He's not known for high taste, but he IS known for his love of brightness and sparkle and excess. The Trump Building on Fifth Avenue sports a multi-story waterfall that splashes water alongside an escalator onto a cafeteria space below. He also funded the Plaza's renovation, which might explain some of the odd mixes of art styles. The property was given to his first wife, Ivana, upon their divorce. They had decided the statue of "General Tecumseh Sherman, victorious" was too ... well, not shiny enough. So it was gilded. By the way, Ivana maintained a salary of $1 a year while she was Mrs. Trump, as a way to not draw a salary, but to remain head of the company. (When both Trumps wrote autobiographies, the New York Times reported that "the Donald" brought his children to Simon and Schuster booksellers and took them to a display of their mother's book. He told them, "Mommy's book is #1 on the Bestseller List now, but Daddy's book sold many, many more." It's actually refreshing to know he's human!)
We decided to continue walking up to Central Park, where we'd catch a horse-drawn hansom cab a relic of an era of unpaved streets, these are the city's original taxis. These rigs are lined up along Central Park South, which is really 59th Street, bordering the park. The city issues permits for these carriages, and the going rate is posted at $35 for the first 20 minutes, and $10 for every 10 minutes thereafter. These carriages are restricted to park grounds except for specific hours (after 11pm Monday through Saturday, after 8pm on Sundays), and they can't start offering rides till after 11am, in any case.
The drivers are very active in soliciting fares, and several offered us "the park tour" for $40, all taxes, tips, fares included. Note that they may not take more than 4 customers at a time, though an extra person in the form of a child under 10 years is allowed. The clacking of the horseshoes on the cobblestoned and asphalt-paved streets was soothing; and it was a bit surreal. Here we were in a large city with a lot of traffic, riding along in a horse-drawn cab! We really enjoyed the incongruity. We rode past Victoria Gardens, which is a carnival and amusement park on the Wolman Rink property (which was renovated by Donald Trump and is used primarily in the winter months as a public ice skating venue), skirted the Central Park Zoo, through poet's row, and many fields and over many stone and brass-railed bridges. We never felt lost in another century because of all the people rollerblading, walking, jogging, playing along the roadways we shared with them. But it did feel like we were in a movie, and that the trip ended too soon.
To extend that relaxed but exciting feeling, we took a stroll up to the entrance of the Central Park Zoo, which is lined with stone and wood benches, inhabited by residents, tourists, buskers, and hawkers. There was a lot for sale, including caricatures of yourself and the now-ubiquitous-seeming name paintings, though the one we got yesterday in Chinatown was better than the ones we saw today. We decided to sit and watch everyone go by, all the various families walking in and out of the park and spotted all the various religions and beliefs of these people. We played the "fashion don't" game where we would compare and contrast some of the Sunday fashion choices of many of the unknowing participants. Several noted that this variety of clothing and family styles wouldn't exist outside of New York, so we couldn't play this game for very long elsewhere. Yes, it's a diverse town, and they all seem to be at Central Park on a beautiful Sunday, a peaceful, tree-covered place, and we had the luxury of being able to believe that all was right with the world.
Finally, 4pm rolled around and we went to wait for the Palm Court at the Plaza to let people into it's wall-less borders. A harpist played, and people who were wearing shorts, flipflops, etc. were turned away. Even those with jeans and sneakers were asked if they had a change of clothing? One of us did go to change in the bathroom; when we told the waiter we were waiting for him, he winked knowingly and said, "He was wearing shorts, wasn't he? That's a no-no!" It may seem snooty to some, but it's actually nice to sit in nice clothing with other people around you who were also dressed nicely, sipping tea and enjoying treats from the silver platters the waiters brought to the table. The younger members of the party were thrilled to play "Princess Mia" and the older ones bemoaned their parents for not bringing them here when they were young! (Note, another photo of a chandelier!)
As we walked out of the Plaza and back toward the cars we'd parked closer to 34th Street and the public transportation hubs, we encountered more "name art" people, and we were very satisfied that the guy in Chinatown who did ours yesterday was among the best. We did encounter one young man who was selling pastel drawings of celebrities he'd done, matted and covered in plastic. One of the Wooklets almost squealed he'd done a beautiful drawing of Orlando Bloom as Legolas! It wasn't merely a copy of a photo, though the pose and costume were familiar. It was a composed drawing, very well done, and for $25 including the matt and a clean garbage bag to carry it home in, a bargain. Still, we found we had $20 cash between us, and the young man graciously accepted it. Woohoo!
We got home and decided our feet needed a break from all the walking in a mere three days! It's known that many people not from "walking cities" like New York don't normally have the endurance to walk for hours at a time, but we thought we were doing pretty well the pedometer was clocking us at about 10,000 steps a day. But being that our tourism schedule was going to be pretty heavy in the coming days, we decided to do as the Lord did and take at least part of a day of rest! So what did we do? We attempted to watch the first two Harry Potter films, of course. And had leftover pizza from the I.C.E. Pizza Class and the stuff the nice men at Noodletown Restaurant packed up for us. Yummy! Then we fell asleep as Harry and Ron crashed into the wall between Platforms 9 and 10 ...
Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.