Wednesday, March 31, 2010

After School Special: Ping Pong & Flowers

It's only Wednesday, and the work week is already grueling.  I refused to stay late again tonight, and at 6pm skipped out the door with my camera to head for Macy's Flower Show.

Happily, the route took me through Bryant Park:

How can you not fall in love with a park that has two ping pong tables? 

I wasn't sure what to expect at Macy's.  I thought there would probably be one floor closed off, with a lot of flower displays.  I was totally wrong, and unprepared for what I was about to see.  Macy's went all out (silly of me to underestimate them, given the Thanksgiving Parade!) and used over a million flowers on its first floor flower exhibition-- which was intertwined with its makeup and jewelry displays.  It was spectacular, and incredibly fun to wander around.  It also smelled delicious!

yep, those are birds.

The show was a lovely way to end the day, and I totally forgot about work for awhile.  The final smile of the evening came about as I was walking to the subway.  I looked down, and saw:

I had to try it.  I put my feet on the stenciled ones, and pointed my camera up.  Sure enough, the Empire State Building at night!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Signs of the Times

Why bring along a book in New York?  Or read your blackberry as you're walking?  There are always interesting things to read all around you.  The latest batch, collected over the past two weeks:

I'm rather perplexed by this one.  Why was the writer moved to write this on a door facing the street?  Is it a message to the world, or someone in particular?

I looked around for the sticker- nothing. Apparently Anthony had already found it.

I love this.  I've never thought about pastrami in gender terms, but appreciate the equal opportunity sensibility.

Just today, I walked through the tunnel below 42nd to get from one train line to the next.  I looked up, and bolted overhead were a series of signs, each a few steps further down from its predecessor:

Surely there is a story behind this, I thought, and googled it once I got home.  Sure enough.  If Wiki is to be believed, this series of signs was inspired by the Burma Shave ads and originally installed in 1994, with a plan to keep it up for one year.  It was never taken down.  The words are from Norman B. Colp, and it's called "The Commuter's Lament".   There are certainly days when I can relate to the sentiment, but I'm glad I don't normally go down this stretch-- it would be too depressing to see every day!

A Usual Unusual Day

Awhile ago I noted that a straightforward plan for a day in New York often unfolds into something far more interesting than anything you would have dreamed up for yourself.   It's a phenomenon I've started to think of as The NYC Usual Unusual Rule.

And so it was yesterday.

The plan: my cousin J is visiting, and we decided to walk through Central Park with my sister and her husband and child (Baby Bird) and have a late lunch.  After that, the family would return home to NJ, and J and I would continue on to Chinatown in the evening.

My sister and her family were running late, so J and I walked over to the East River and Carl Schulz Park while we waited for them.  It was a gorgeous day, perfectly blue sky, and daffodils cropping up on every corner.  Once we entered the park, we immediately spied bits of color in a patch of grass.  Moving closer, we encountered:

We had just missed an Easter Egg Hunt, but saw the remnants of the celebration and could still sense the children's excitement and laughter lingering in the air.   So sweet.

B. and her family eventually arrived, and we immediately headed for Central Park.  I've spent very little time there since my move to NYC, so the walk was not just a walk, but one of discovery.  I immediately noticed that most of the benches featured little stories memorializing a person or a moment:

which of course warmed my heart, as I had so recently discovered similar heartfelt messages in Bryant Park (Love & Life at Bryant Park)

We walked our way towards the Boathouse, and followed the curve around the lake until we came upon Bethesda Fountain.  No fountain on this chilly day, but we witnessed a spectacular and unscripted performance-- a university choral group had been touring the park, and they stopped to hear a lone saxophonist playing on the terrace.  Someone starting singing, and in short order the choir quickly formed to sing one of their upbeat, rocking spirituals, with the saxophonist weaving in and out of their notes with his own spontaneous song.  Walkers-by immediately crowded around, all of us astonished at this stunningly joyful and unexpected collaboration.  The cheers after they had finished reverberated across the park.

We eventually departed, and walked through a beautiful tunnel:

And up a flight of stairs (this stone carving was carved into a post at the top of the stairs):

to get to The Mall, a graceful walkway sheltered by sturdy elm trees:

After a late lunch at Rosa Mexicano, we took the train back to my apartment to rest after the long walk.  B. and the family departed, and J and I crashed for a bit.  After we felt revived, J and I headed out again, this time to Chinatown.  Not to shop, not to sightsee.  No, we went to Chinatown to observe night court at the Criminal Courts Building.

Let me explain.  While looking for fun things to do at night in NYC, I ran across a suggestion to visit the night court for NYC.  This is where New Yorkers who've been arrested are charged with a crime.  The arraignments are open to the public, and take place from 5:30 pm to 1 am every night of the week.  It caught my attention because J. is in the midst of planning to apply to be a police offer.  I thought she might be interested.  She was.  And it was indeed interesting.

The courtroom was quite large and formal, with the words In God We Trust in large letters about the judge's bench.  It was crowded with family members and friends of the accused.  J and I quietly took seats in the back, but eventually moved forward as people cycled in and out of the room. 

J and I were fascinated.  The courtroom was run with complete efficiency, with each of the employees appearing completely sure in their respective roles.  The individuals appearing before the court were treated respectfully but firmly by the judge.  In many cases, he gave people second chances, especially the minors and first offenders.  In the most extreme case, he assigned $100,000 bail for an individual who was accused of robbing a bank.  The lawyer argued that it was extreme, given that her client had worked for sixteen years without an offense, was 63 years old and in poor health.  The prosecutor pointed out that prior to the sixteen years of work, the gentleman had robbed four banks.  The bail stood.

We were glued to our seats until recess was called. 

Dizzied by what we had just witnessed, we sought dinner in Chinatown.  We found a crowded place and immediately realized it was authentic (as it should be!), as evidenced by the crispy duck tongue appetizer and wide variety of dishes featuring frog.  We ordered from more familiar territory (tofu, vegetables, beef) but reveled in the feeling that we had just stepped into a different country.

Yes, yet another usual unusual day in New York.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities, and Of The Girl Who Traveled Between Them

My beloved aunt L. noted that I seemed more alive in New York, and asked about the differences between this city and my prior haunt, Washington D.C.

I've been thinking about her question a lot.  I love both cities.

Washington DC is elegant, manicured, sophisticated and gracious, with broad avenues, gleaming monuments, and fleeting cherry blossoms.

It has some beautiful traditions, like the Smithsonian Folk Festival and the Smithsonian Kite Festival:

It is the home of some of my most treasured life memories, such as Obama's Inauguration.

It has its tough areas as well, of course.  And the city feels more planned-- the subway stations all look the same (no mosaics!).  The streets are active, but not as intensely crowded and vibrant as New York.

My view of New York: brawny, vivid, gritty, exciting, constant theater of the streets, every variety of age and ethnicity, a city of walkers, miraculous art in public transport, endlessly changing and interesting.

As I continued to reflect on the question, though, I realized that my renewed liveliness is only partially due to the change in geography.  The real reason is the change in me.

The leap of faith I took in November, moving from money to heart, is the greatest difference.  I am different. I am more open, more awake, working in a field that has been a passion since my teens.  I am collaborating with people who have devoted their life to the same mission.  In the corporate world, one ultimately makes decisions based on what's in the best interest of shareholders.  In my non-profit agency, we make decisions based on what's in the best interest of the beneficiaries of our services, people who are utterly vulnerable and who in many cases would die or be severely impacted without our help. 

I do not malign the corporate world.  I learned valuable skills that are critical to my current work.  I made wonderful friends- real friends, not just work friends.  I was intellectually challenged every day. I traveled the world.  Without the corporate world there is no non-profit one-- we are dependent on donations and on tax dollars.  It is an interdependent system.  There is no wrong here.  It was simply not right for me anymore.

I do not have a perfect job. The paycut was enormous, despite the fact that my job is bigger than the last one.  With the increased complexity of work comes the related stress.  But I no longer feel that I am marking time.  My work and my heart and my time and my efforts are aligned.  It feels wonderful. 

And that, my dear aunt, you who have faithfully role modeled the path of the heart for me, is the real reason why I am more alive.  The city magnifies my contented spirit.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Art of Air

It was incredibly windy this morning, perfect kite-flying weather (speaking of which- hoping to fly my Outer Banks kite in Central Park sometime soon... ).

I passed a scooter with a billowing plastic bag stretched across its handlebars.  I walked past it with a smile, then stopped, doubled back and took a picture. 

It reminded me of the art of Joshua Allen Harris, whose masterpieces were filmed on the streets of New York a couple years ago.  I had actually forgotten about it until this yellow plastic bag.  Here's a peek (worth sitting through the ad):

A few more:

The day I see one of these will be the highlight of my year.  And the day I buy a video camera.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A pleasant morning walk

The air was cool and moist this morning, and felt lovely on my skin.  Invigorated, I took a slight detour on the way to the subway station in search of signs of spring.

First there was the building with its hair on fire:

Down the street, you could almost feel one tree stretching out her limbs and her blossoms unfolding its petals:

After admiring the tree, I turned around to cross the street and was greeted by a lamp.

Lots of lamps.

What sort of place would have such unique lamps as decoration? I searched for a sign.

Ah, a school. 

Why on earth would there be a school for genies?  Perhaps a sister school to Hogwarts?  I'm surprised they're out in the open, though-- surely they'd be continually petitioned by Wishers.

I puzzled over it for awhile. It wasn't until I sat down at my desk at work that I realized it was a Lamp of Knowledge.

I like the magic genie explanation better, though, don't you?

Art as Geography

The neighborhoods of New York remind me of the European Union.  You don't need a visa to go from one place to the next, and neither do you need signs to tell you that you've arrived someplace new.

The vibe is different, people look different, the art is different, the restaurants are different.  The graffiti is different. 

Witness this on the Upper East Side: The Road Less Traveled

And compare to this in Chelsea--

And right down the street:

Let's put it this way.  I'm glad to visit Chelsea, as it's always interesting.  But I am definitely more of your classic Uptown Girl.   Give me Dreams over Bin Laden Bunnies any day!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nature's abundance

If you take the Uptown 4 train, and ride it alllll the way, well mostly all the way, you will come to Bedford Park Boulevard Station, a stop in a rather downtrodden part of town.  You walk the length of the grimy platform and descend the stairs, and then! 

What fresh heaven is this? 

Yes, the gateway to the New York Botanical Gardens, just a mile or so away.

I offer this to you in celebration of the vernal equinox. Spring!