Posts Tagged ‘travel’


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On the fourth floor of the MoMa, the white walled room is empty. Most people are elsewhere, sucked into Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, or called to attend Munch’s “The Scream.” Before fame’s gravity can dissipate, its victims must hold aloft cameras, jostling for a memory of having photographed a work of art.

But those few that mingle here, only hesitantly step onto the 10′ by 26′ steel plate lying on the floor. Who has walked on a Richard Serra? It’s an opportunity the threat of the sibling plate secured to the ceiling can’t dissipate.

Only in NYC, can I walk through the center of a giant letter X and have so much fun.

Simple Extravagance

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A 40 minute train ride away, Fort Tryon Park perches atop uptown Manhattan. Beginning a leisurely walk towards the medieval art housed at the Cloisters, the bright sky, ultimate frisbee game, and the smell of trees make the New York of the last month seem a distant dream.

Back in the late 1920s, Rockefeller financed this park for the MET. At the height of simple extravagance, he donated 700 acres of waterfront to the city of New Jersey, so that no development would spoil the park’s view.

Though the cityscape is missing, this place is just as embedded in NYC history, founded on old money. But strangely, I feel more welcomed, more at home.

A Nocturnal Arc

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A nocturnal arc, The Lincoln Center spills inviting light from 6 stories of floor to ceiling windows. Well dressed figures congregate in dark backlit crowds at its doors waiting to be carried away for an evening, saved from the wrathful deluge of a night without music.

The walls of the Alice Tully Hall are warm space ship walls that have been constructed to sculpt the space as much as the sound. One of the doors of the strange craft opens and a man in a Vivienne Westwood suit walks on stage.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s virtuosic performance of Debussy is an other-worldly wave of soft and percussive impressionism and just another night in New York.

South of 14th Street

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Last night walking south on 5th Ave, I passed the NY public library and crossed into a three block radius where the street lights slept below the dark canyon walls of deserted buildings. It was a different world where people lit their paths with flash lights and police stopped the car headlights so you could cross the dark street.

And then as quickly as the world arrived, it departed, taking with it its hint of trepidation and leaving you back on the brightly lit strip.

South of 14th is the same other worldly pitch with the night time appearance of a ghost town.

New York post Sandy is momentous to behold.

178 7th Ave South

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The small red doors under the red canopy on 7th lead down a darkly lit stairway to a woman unabashedly dressed in a leopard print top. She guides us to our circular table in the middle of the cramped underground room.

It’s 8:15 and already the front row seats are taken by eager fans. The $25 cover and minimum 1 drink are the entree tickets to a piece of history, the predecessors of which hang on the walls in black and white. There’s Ron Carter, Michel Petrucciani and John Coltrane.

Tonight it’s the Bill Charlap Trio. I’m at the Village Vanguard and the night is young.

The Earth Room

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Walking south on Wooster street in Soho, I come to a door between the tall designer shops. Buzzer 2B lets me in, past an elevator, to a stairway up to the second floor. The sign at the top reminds you it’s quite steep.

The door at the end of the hall clicks ajar as I approach, opened by an unshaven man who immediately turns around and walks back to his desk without looking back. He has salt and pepper hair, gardening hands and an olive stripped shirt on. I infer from his avoidance of any eye contact a preference that I stay a routine anonymous visitor.

I arrive at a glass partition that rises to my knees. The room before me has a dank earthy smell and overcast daylight flooding in through each side of the building.

It’s filled with 197 cubic meters of soil. 335 Square meters of prime soho real estate has been filled 56 cm high with a rich dark mud since 1980 for people like me to visit.

Brooklyn Library

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At a table in an almost empty veg restaurant, I’m waiting for a mango chicken lunch special in Brooklyn. It’s on the south side of the street and the afternoon sun reflecting off the passing cars across the way fill the room with intense flashes of light, just as the Subway trains that trundle underneath rattle the building as they pass.

I’m on my way to the Museum here which is at the north end of Prospect Park, past the library.

In Prospect Park, it’s a beautiful day on a bench shaded by the rustling leaves of a White Mulberry tree and surrounded by magic lanterns slowing following the walking path.

All around the crowded green fields are hints of fall in the blush of the Sugar Maples and the Tulip Trees that are just now beginning to wake from green. It’s a calm break from the city in which I feel a bit claustrophobic.┬áThe whole experience here reminds me of my time in London a bit, being in an old city with an excess of untried theatre shows, lookalike falafel stands and the unmistakable unwashed.


City of Performers

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On the other side of Washington Square from the jazz musicians, a red headed man in a black sports jacket and scarf plays Faure and Puccini on a black grand piano for a crowd of sitting tourists. He looks bored as they encircle him on green benches in I heart NY shirts. The music sounds tinny and popular, as if the piano is suffering from shouting outdoors for too long and I wonder if the money the musician collects from today’s audience will pay for the cost of transporting the piano.

With the George Washington Arch in the background, a homeless couple sits and feeds pigeons. The birds crowd around the pair, strutting and fighting for crumbs and seeds. They are a grey mass that flutters and seethes like a living grey blanket with two human heads. The blatant disregard for hygiene feeds equally a fascination and disgust in all the watchers that pass by while the dishevelled heads of this bizarre creature survey their flock proudly expectant of a kind of praise only kin could offer.

An older woman and a man step on to the tube…um… the Subway and introduce themselves as if they were on stage at the Royal Theatre…um…Carnegie Hall. The man smiles as he strums his guitar in time, flexing on the off beats, and the woman breaks out into a 1950s R&B version of “Cry Baby”. No one claps but the guitarist when they are done.

An woman stands waiting in large heels with a purse clutched in her hand in front of the picturesque red brick of a building in the West Village. Her hair and make up look too styled to be anything but waiting for the lens and flash of the camera man a few yards away.

Arrival in New York

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A woman sits with her arms around her knees framed by the brick of her 2nd story window and the metal scaffolding of a fire escape. I imagine it a rather romantic respite from the muggy confines of a New York apartment.

In a moment, the image has fled like all the others seen from the taxi taking me to the West Village. The ride from La Guardia is easy and fast, as if I’m sampling a system that has existed long enough to be convenient. The cabbie tries his best to point out sights and districts as we pass them but it’s all I can do to watch in amazement a city lit from the inside boil and pass by. It has an organic chaos derived from an excess whose gavitational pressure induces it’s own crumbling and necessitates a patchwork of continuous rebuilding.

I’m in New York for the first time.

The flight from Vancouver was split by Montreal, a hurried airport sandwich and the intimidating address of a humourless US customs agent asking if I had a job. I remember waiting in line, casually dressed among men in business suites returning to Manhattan after a day of dealings in Quebec. It was a switchback queue and during your wait you were guaranteed at least 2 forced opportunities at squinting under the low setting sunlight from the high windows.

James lives on the 4th floor of an old tinder box of a building in the West Village, a part of Manhattan strong enough in its historical identity to defy the rigid grid of the city’s streets. You continue on your merry way along 4th street until you hit the prism of a glass wall that surrounds the old village and suddenly you are crossing 11th street before the confusion of a 45 degree shift and triangular intersections starts to set in.

Julianne Moore lives across the street. The super’s name is Mike and I don’t know where he lives.

The whole scenario is a bit surreal. Aside from a day and a half in France and half a day in Vancouver years ago, James and I have had a handful of Skype conversations in July. It seems absurd to base a friendship on such a small foundation but when you really think about it, under no lens is life any less absurd.

James and Sam greet me at the top of the flight of stairs. Sam’s friendship with James stretches back to several months after I met him. They take my luggage, hauling it past lighting and grip gear stacked up in the kitchen. James has just finished the busiest week of his life, scheduling a shoot for tomorrow and completing an entire production office’s workload by himself.

Seeing the apartment is like getting a backstage pass to the theatrical release of the Skype chat I’ve been having with him since the summer. The shower really does stand unabashedly in the kitchen, closeted between the sink and the stunted washing machine. A baby grand piano snuggles under blankets from the humidity and the living room furniture exists only to please their cat Franny as scratch posts.

When I first met James, I had long hair, a backpack and a lonely planet guide as a compass in my hand. He asked me then if I was a traveller. This time, James opens with the same astounding ability to reveal the obvious when he says, “You ARE tall.”

We dine at Gobo, a vegetarian restaurant as busy as it is loud on roti canai, butternut squash risotto and grilled oyster mushrooms. James’s girlfriend, Bridgitte, greets us on our return before bed. I’m between the scratch-post-couches, Sam at the foot of the closet, squeezed between the piano and the wall and James and Brigitte sleep in the small room just before the kitchen.

It’s a wee bit crowded, but hey, I’m in New York and I have a 7am call time in Brooklyn.