New York in Late Spring, an Aesthetic Bonus
It’s June and I’m studying for PhD art-philosophy orals coming up mid-July. I’ve told everyone in my life to scram/skedaddle until August. I’m at my desk, five hours daily, yellow highlighter on textbooks, in front of my wide screen computer, pounding keys, and looking things up on Wikipedia–oops, OK, I confess, I even donated to them last December. True they’re my Big Lebowski of aesthetic denial.
I tell my triathlete friends studying for orals is mental calisthenics. Even if I’m uncoordinated, I’m competitive. I fantasize running too if I hadn’t broken my ankle house remodeling in the late seventies. Well that’s enough of the mythological narcissism, but husband Dave does have to drag me onto our elliptical as I’m turning into a pretzel with sore joints.
The phone rang a few weeks ago and Maddy, our drama queen daughter, said she was in a play in Brooklyn and we could come. We don’t always get to see her perform as she often does spur-of-the moment cabaret stints or we’re told the content is too risqué for parents. I quickly surmised a long weekend break from Kant and Hegel might be good. For a Maddy performance, Dave and I would fly across America in aerial lavatories… and we practically did. So after a few hours of negotiating with Alaska Airlines, they shoehorned us into to their crowded summer bookings.
New York City in late spring is not too humid, and with the longer days you can subway around in relative comfort. Broadway musicals get most of the tourist hype, but there are a lot of ‘off and off-off’ theater productions found in abandoned warehouses over the five boroughs that often have better acting at bargain prices.
We subway’d to Brooklyn three times to see Maddy perform in Taylor Adamson’s Dead in Brooklyn, at The Brick Theater, a former garage on Lorimer Street. Dead in Brooklyn is a non-linear performance loosely based on the Brooklyn Theater fire, 1876, that killed about 300 people.
Adamson references the play, Two Orphans, performed the night of the blaze, in several of his interlocking narratives that include a couple of tuneful numbers. Dave and I left humming the song, Eyes of Brooklyn. We’d watched Maddy morph into orphan Annie at West High but this was really special because playwright Taylor Adamson, designer/director Joel Soren and pianist/composer, Gianfranco Settecasi all collaborated, having graduated from Tisch/NYU with Maddy.
After one of the performances we decided to investigate Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery where there is a monument to the unidentified victims of the Brooklyn Theater inferno. Founded in 1838, Green-Wood’s 478 acres have 560,000 permanent residents, housing many notables like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Leonard Bernstein, and in spite of hesitating when admitting nefarious customers, ‘Boss Tweed’ got a pass.
This National Historic Landmark, once the site of the Revolution’s Battle of Long Island, 1776, has a convenient subway stop and offers trolley rides. More than 500,000 visitors come yearly to enjoy Victorian architecture, get married or attend a theatrical performance (google for scheduling).
Across from The Brick is the Mexican restaurant Zona Rosathat serves regular theater goers. A corner trailer-diner is permanently built into this kooky restaurant which features sidewalk and rooftop dining. We ordered Tacos de Pescado al Pastor marinated in Guadijillo salsa (tacos with Mahi-mahi topped with pineapple, onion and cilantro).
Dave and I had an extra day so we decided to walk the High Line Park, Gotham’s latest outdoor experience, built on former elevated train tracks thirty feet above the old meat packing district on Manhattan’s lower West Side. In 1930, freight trains were raised as their former street level counterparts were mowing down pedestrians at the 105 railroad crossings along 13 miles of track. After WWII, interstate trucking left railroads in the lurch; tracks were torn out nationwide.
You can thank the famed Penn Station demolition debacle for turning the High Line into a park. In the sixties, the McKim, Mead and White’s beaux arts structure inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla was demolished so a new Madison Square Garden could better serve the world of sports; a big boo-boo that still echoes across the whole island. Around the Millennium, Friends of the High Line was founded to turn the remaining mile and a half of elevated tracks into a park. Today visitors climb or elevate at designated points from 10th Avenue at Gansevoort Street in the meat packing district to 30th street on 10th.
It was sunny and thus crowded when we began our stroll up on the former tracks now strewn with tall grasses protected by curbing in the shape of old railroad ties– think concrete edging resembling tossed french fries. The High Line meanders past apartment buildings and art galleries. Peeking through tall brick facades is the Hudson River. Occasionally the High Line’s footprint has been widened to allow for elevated lawns. There is also a very shallow wading pool. Ironically this project is so popular that the conservancy is extending walkways while making the adjacent apartments soar in price.
The park is narrow so when it’s crowded you feel you are being pushed along a moving walkway, but not aggressively. The experience reminded me of an updated Easter Parade (1948) starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire who stroll Fifth Avenue in their spring bonnets while being photographed for the rotogravure. Terroir On The Porch is midway and serves salads/sandwiches and wine/beer on picnic tables overlooking the Hudson River towards New Jersey. I tried the smoked chicken salad sandwich with nicoise olives and cucumbers while Dave had a bratwurst. Thankfully, there are restrooms and tasteful t-shirt vendors. If you fall in love with the High Line you can join the conservancy (www.thehighline.org).
While the romance of the railroad was waning, Charles James was designing ball gowns for the rich and famous. The Metropolitan Museum summer exhibition features James’ strapless bodices sewn to yards of bell shaped shirting. Computers show how James assembled his patterns onto fabric, executing precision cutting that finally wrapped ladies in luxury—nothing artificial (runs through August 10, 2014).
A quick elevator ride takes museum goers to the Met’s Roof Garden Café and astro-turf lawn with a panorama of Central Park and its surrounding skyscraper neighbors (open through late fall). This becomes quite a contrasting art space to their galleries of Rembrandts and medieval artifacts below. Viewers were noshing and chatting, having kicked off their shoes as if on some beach. Dan Graham’s installation, Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout, 2014, is an undulating glass enclosure that visitors can walk through and see their own reflections that drift in an out of Manhattan sky scraper imagery Graham’s glass wall hides in ivy hedgerows designed by Swiss landscape architect Gunther Vogt, thus creating contemplative space away from those lounging on the turf—quite a feat as the Metropolitan’s rooftop deck isn’t large (on through November 2, 2014).
Later we joined Maddy and son Elliott for dinner at the Park Avenue Tavern (39th and Park near Grand Central). If you want to dine away from the boisterous tourist entrapments of Time Square but don’t want to be jammed in chair-against-chair like many Upper East Side eateries that often favor the neighborhood regulars, Park Avenue Tavern is for you. This upscale pub sports an after work crowd. Kids seemed welcome and some came bearing gifts and balloon bouquets; birthday or shower snapshot opportunities on Park Ave were an easy access. The servers were very attentive refilling our wine glasses; the clam chowder, burger and fries were delicious. We shared a chocolate brownie with ice cream served in a miniature cast iron fry pan. A nice break from studying for art-philosophy orals.
About Jean Bundy