Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mariner’s Church Fellowshippers group

October with Exploritas began for me with a big group for a six day stretch - and what a great time it was for all.

Before I met this group, however, and after my workout, I was having coffee on a bench outside a neighborhood coffee shop, when a neighbor seemed to be asking me:

"You say you're going to meet some people today?"

And, like him, I didn't have a clue really as to who they all were. It was my first job with Exploritas - formerly known as Elder Hostel, now changing its name to seem less restrictive, I think, even though it really wasn't before. Although I had had jobs that extended over a span of days before, this would be unique in my experience. I would be the coordinator on their visit to New York, over 5 plus days - morning to night! Their itinerary was designed by their leader, John Torrel and my boss Molly Goodrich of Explore New York, whose main business is Exploritas tours.

So, who are my people?

Here's the mob shot! Everyone lined up and eager - taking a break at the bottom of Battery Park City, at Robert F Wagner Junior Park, while we were on our bus tour on our first day. Some wore their red hats - but it wasn't so necessary then because we were all on the bus.

The red Explore New York hats help us all stay together when we trek around the city, so it could prove invaluable later on our tour.

The bus tour we did on Friday, which enabled us to have lunch at Grand Central Terminal.
All milling around - getting ready to snack or have lunch at the food court - Patti and JJ were happy to be in New York - and I as their guide smiled to the challenge. I have yet to meet all the others, however. So, we shall see.

Every morning we could see our favorite neighbor - the Empire State Building, just a couple of blocks down 34th Street at Fifth Avenue. Some had gone up that first night, but on Saturday, the day after our full city bus tour, we bussed over to Pier 83 to the Circle Line for a liesurely cruise up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain. We should see some color in the trees - but first the cloudy morning kept most of us inside. Here Ken holds his seat, and his umbrella.

But our group wasn't the only ones on the boat - and the others were outside enjoying the fresh air.
But it certainly didn't look promising as we waited to cast off at the dock. Still, the cameras were out, and many still clicked away at targets for their scrap books:
And so we headed out onto the fjord of the Hudson River, Audrey sits with Jim and Debbie Sorenson, comfortable, knowing that good weather will follow.
There is, of course, a wind outside, and soon the Circle Line's guide reminds that this might be a good time for the "Titanic Moment." So, of course, there are candidates for that Oscar moment!
It's a happy time on the boat already!

We begin cruising up the river, without any major sights, although we did get the opportunity to see the shoreline as we passed Riverdale in the Bronx.

You can see how grey the day is for us. Would it stay this way?

Well, no it wouldn't!

We landed at Bear Mountain - and began the climb.

Of course, there were only about 28 of us, and the boat seemed pretty full - especially considering how drizzly and cloudy it seemed when we began. No one, however, was daunted. And, you know, I really didn't know what was up the hill. I looked back at the boat - and I see that Ken and his wife are on their way down the dock.

We all begin our walk up.

Hmm. We find a tent .... And that's not the half of it!

There's a Polka band up there!

And I didn't for some reason didn't take a picture of the long lines for the schnitzel and wurst, and beer in liter mugs, but you'll see the beer in the woman's hand above? That's a small mug!

So, some of the Mariners began by sitting, resting after their climb up the hill - while people already up there began their party in earnest. In the picture on the right, the girl on the left has one of the big mugs ($20, including the souvenir mug, and $7 for refills).

But our group did get in the swing of things:
And I don't think those are reluctant smiles either! Everyone had a great time. And, although it was a challenge for him, Jim Sorenson made his way up the long slope - and danced a two-step too!
It was such a great time it is almost hard to believe that that outing was just one day of the whole trip - and just the second day at that. But, not to rush, it became a beautiful day so that on our slow cruise back we all were able to luxuriate on the deck of the boat and relax in the cool sunny breeze.
That was Saturday. On Sunday we took the subway up to Harlem to have brunch at Maude's Spoonbread, and a little walk through Harlem. We walked at our own pace - and got stuck in the middle of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard!
Notice all our red Explore New York hats! Very easy to keep this excited group together with them!

We walked down 139th Street and passed by the house of Nobel Sissel, a great Harlem musician - which house just happens to be owned now by our leader Molly! I neglected to whip out my camera (maybe JJ took a picture?), but Molly did give our group an idea of housing in a small part of the big city.

But we then went to Frederick Douglas Boulevard to catch a bus - and met up with some interesting people at the bus stop. One woman, who appeared to have been an olympic caliber swimmer at one time, regaled us with her adventures as we waited. All were mesmerized.
Once on the bus, which seemed a long time in coming, and was pretty full when it came so our 30 people certainly filled it up to the max, one 63 year old grandmother of 22 got up to give one of our group her seat - she was getting off soon, she said!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon Walking through Central Park

Last Sunday afternoon I saw a movie with my son over at Lincoln Square, at 68th and Broadway - and yes, I know it was a beautifully sunny day and I should have been outside etc. etc. - but, I just wanted to take that break from "the world." (We saw "The Invention of Lying" and it was certainly an escapist film!)

When we left, I went shopping for socks, and Jake went home. And then I went walking ... down West 74th Street. Why not?

And I discovered - or, rather, re-discovered - a beautiful row of homes that seems to me to be quite unique, one of which I've pictured below:

This is just one of the terrace of buildings, and as such it is singular if only because it displays a violation of the West Side Historic District's restrictions. See the planters up top?

They're not supposed to be there! In fact, and I'm sure the casual observer wouldn't really think it is all that important, but look here - there is an actual notice, a Certificate of Appropriateness, that specifically states:

"Pursuant to Section 25-307 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, at the Public Meeting of July 13, 2004, following the Public Hearing of July 13, 2004, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to deny the proposal to allow the re-installation of planters installed directly above the mansard roof above the fifth floor ...."

But, you see: it's still there. Just how current is this notice, I wonder. So, I read on:

"In reviewing this proposal, the Commission noted that 34 West 74th Street is a Georgian Revival style rowhouse with Beaux-Arts style elements, one of a row of eighteen, designed by Percy Griffin and built in 1902-1904; and that the building's age, style, scale, materials, and details are among the features which contribute to the special architectural and historic character of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District, and also the Central Park West- West 73rd-74th Street Historic District; The Commission also noted that Landmarks
Preservation Commission Notice of Violation V-02-0260 was issued on March 24, 2002, for the "Installation of fence at roof without permit(s)"; that staff visited the site and determined that the fence cited in the violation was actually the continuous row of planters; that the pergola was also visible from the street and been installed without permits; that a glass block wind screen on the west side of the building was partially visible in photographs taken at the time of designation and was therefore grandfathered; that the applicant had the planters and pergola removed prior to the hearing; and that the cited warning letter was rescinded. With regard to the denied planter installation, the Commission found that that the planters have been designed in a manner which significantly changes the appearance of the historic mansard roof; that the planters stand out
against the skyline in a manner which draws undue attention to them; and that for these reasons the re-installation of the planters, as designed, will detract from the special architectural and historic character of the building, the row, and both historic districts."

This notice was first published on 09/07/2004, and is set to expire on 07/13/2010. I wonder - and there's more to this certificate, but not much, just how long it will take to remove these planters. But I'm also impressed that there is such official permission, and restrictions, granted. I wonder who would enforce this? I read on:

"All approved drawings are marked approved by the Commission with a perforated seal indicating the date of approval. The work is limited to what is contained in the perforated documents. Other work or amendments to this filing must be reviewed and approved separately. The applicant is hereby put on notice that performing or maintaining any work not explicitly authorized by this permit may make the applicant liable for criminal and/or civil penalties, including imprisonment and fines. This letter constitutes the permit; a copy must be prominently displayed at the site while work is in progress."

Wow! Imprisonment and fines! They could mean business! (And isn't the internet a wonderful thing. I didn't see this permit posted anywhere, but with a little searching I discovered it. And, of course, as a properly licensed busy-body (aka NYC Tour Guide) I sent it off to the Committee to Preserve the Upper West Side, or Landmark West! and I await their reply.

Having done my good deed (really?!), I was then off to The Central Park. Oh, by the way, when the park was devised, that was the formal title of it - The being the defining element. Just like it's supposed to be The Fifth Avenue as well.

Enough! Off to the park - and once I walk down the W. 77th Street entrance road, and off down a path to the left, I see one of my most favorite trees:

I haven't given it a nick-name, although you might say it's crying out for one: The Lazy Tree? or The Lounging Tree? Maybe that last is appropriate for this Sunday, for I will certainly find many loungers out and about!

Look down, across the early autumn leaves, and on this day, and no doubt on many of the days to come, one can see the truth in Albert Camus' statement that "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower." Ahh, yes.

The Newly Clad Bridge to the Rambles - and more

Yes, a day for lounging, but not for just lazing around. I had places to go, perhaps people and animals to meet, and certainly things to see. First on my list was the bridge to the Rambles.

There's the lake, and I marvel at the sheer number of people! No, I don't feel pressed, or pressured by all the people. I'm just impressed again on how good a job the Central Park Conservancy has done. Where people 30 years ago would NEVER go, everyone does now!

Look at that! The bridge never looked so fine; look too at the wooden planking. Such are the wonders of the Park; when once you "know" it, the Conservancy revitalizes it and inspires people to marvel at the world around them.

To be involved in the Park is really the goal of the designers, among whose intentions was that when people enter the park they deliberately - and by design it's almost subtle - leave the city. I mean, where else would it be possible to -

- row under a bridge as blithely as if you were walking in the park. Of course, not everything is perfect, for the water quickly becomes too shallow for their venture,

- and they have to back themselves out!

But I just keep on walking.

After crossing the bridge, I see a wonderful path up the hillside. In fact, I recognize that the path has been totally resurfaced. Lovely. And close by - another more rustic path, back toward the water.

I do feel I'm in the country, but not too wild a country; this is somewhere people have been, and by the fineness of the path I can deduce that people love this land. People are interested in my enjoying it too. There's a sense of community here, here in The Central Park.

I look down to the bridge once again, before I go deeper into the Ramble.

As I walk toward the top of that hill, I find a path going off to my right - and a bridge - another bridge! - seems to rise up out of the path. Beautiful. Let's to and look over, and down.

There's a man approaching - and walking quite purposely it seems. Let's see him go through.But I can't see him. Once again, the brilliance of the designers of the Park have outwitted me, and have preserved privacy, have limited my view, but have enhanced the wilderness feeling that sometimes tricks me into believing I'm not really in New York. Hmm. Where did he go?

There he goes! And he seems to be even further away than I would have expected. Curious, very curious.

Well, I'm off into the woods. Now, you have to realize I'm skipping much - and some of you who have been this way will question my choice of route, but: I ask you. Who is really choosing your route when you freely wander in the Central Park? You? Not really. It's a combination of your will, your unconscious, and the designers of the Park. As they say in so many twelve-step programs - and don't forget, the Park is one of the easiest and least expensive sessions for mental therapy that exist: let go and let God. Well, and also let Olmstead, Vaux, and the skilled foreman of the gardeners, Ignaz Pilat, have their way with you.

In fact, hired first for only $1.50 per day as a foreman, Ignaz Pilat, educated in Botany at the University of Vienna, told Olmstead, who was the Superintendent of the Park, that "to occupy the position of a mere foreman ... is far from being grateful to my feelings." Three years later he was the chief gardnener. It is to him perhaps that we should tender our thanks and offer our appreciation; for it was he who supervised the shaping of slopes and arrangement of boulders, the trenching, fertilizing and planting of lawns, as well as the selection, placement, and transplanting of trees and shrubs. (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, "The Park and the People," p. 172)

Just imagine. All 26,000 trees, 58 miles of paths, almost 9000 benches, 36 unique bridges, over just 843 acres with 7 bodies of water all supplied by the city water system, all over, under and around hills and trees that Ignaz Pilat and his mostly German gardeners fabricated according to what was largely Calvert Vaux's plan. (Even though Olmstead gets most of the credit, and may certainly deserve it for most of the other parks he helped make, Vaux was the main designer of Central Park.)

So, a fun Sunday in the Park.

Look! Another explorer! He hasn't far to go, but he's venturing into a cove - for the heck of it. Just the thing to do on a lazy sunny afternoon.

A pup waits and watches while his (or her?) masters meander for a moment. But I'm at the other edge of the park, and almost, I think, near the edge.

But what's that in the tree?

It was moving, but a raccoon was climbing around a tree! Just a hundred yards or less from the East drive - and, in fact, he was the second one I saw that afternoon. (The first one was impossible to catch on camera.) So, all kinds of critters in the Park Sunday!

So, not too far to walk now - there's the drive!

- which means it can't be far to Fifth Avenue. It is a wonderful day - everyone is out, walking, biking, and, of course, running.

Slowly, carefully, I cross the drive.

The grand apartments on The Fifth Avenue! I've made it - again, of course. I've done this walk many, many times; but each time is different. I can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What are the Chances for our Yankees?

I have a strong feeling that this could be the year - yes indeed, money talks nobody walks and the Steinbrenners' (sic) Yankees will prove the power of the purse in last winter's off-season with a commanding surge through October. Look at this:

(photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)
Here you see Mariano Rivera celebrating the Yankee's 100th victory of the season with catcher Jose Molina and first baseman Mark Teixeira, left. They completed a three game sweep of the notorious Boston Red Sox, and secured the home field advantage. And some home field it is this year!
This isn't a shot taken during a Yankees game, but during the ceremonies of the graduation of thousands of students from New York University - which is why there's so much purple! But those of you who remember the old Yankee Stadium - "the house that Ruth built" in 1923, which is just across 161st Street. How close is it? Well, just look:
The old stadium is on the left, and the new on the right - with the elevated portion of the IRT number 4 subway coursing right along beside them. There was, as many of you may remember, some controversy about why a new one had to be built, replacing a very popular Macombs Dam Park, but promises were made that other parks would be built to supplement the neighborhood. And, what to do with the old stadium?

According to the department of parks, demolition is begun, and should be completed some time in 2010. There will be community playgrounds and softball fields in its place.

But one thing was taken from it that may bring good luck to our Yankees:
This was the little sign that all Yankees would touch before going on to the ball field as a wish for good luck; with the permission of the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter now has the sign. Let's hope it will bring them luck in the new stadium!

So, it's come down to the question: so, if they're now with the home field advantage in the play-offs, who - do you think? - will they eventually play in the World Series? After all, the old Yankee Stadium hosted 37 World Series, more than any other baseball stadium (they won 26, more than any other team). And the Yankees, with Babe Ruth, not only won their first game in their new stadium - against Ruth's old team, the Red Sox, but won the World Series that year in their new stadium.

But this year, of course, the Red Sox are out of it. Maybe. (That old wild-card thing, I'm afraid.) Yet perhaps a new rivalry will begin: what's happening with the Phillies!?

On August 22 I gave a special tour (special for me) for a bus load of Phillies Phans who came in from Reading Pennsylvania. Two hours, said the leader, Chris Huey, is all they want, because they're anxious to see their team, and their ace hitter Ryan Howard and the pitcher Pedro Martinez would do against the Mets. Quite an enthusiastic group!
Here they are down around Battery Park City, taking pictures of the Statue of Liberty - and looking quite pleased to be in the Big Apple if I do say so myself. So, I provided a good tour for my Phillies Phans, but I had to ask them just how confident they were in their team this year. I stopped one particularly enthusiastic gentleman to ask him that question.

He had no doubt the Phillies would prevail:
He feels he has plenty of room for more! We shall see, my friend, we shall see ..... if we have a Turnpike Series!