Our story so far, if you are just joining us (really, just go back and read the earlier post, eh?): Greg has traveled to New York City for a weekend of celebrations and spent Friday afternoon exploring Brooklyn while Patrick was at work.
Here’s another bit of sculpture from the grounds at Pratt Institute. It had already caught my eye before Patrick mentioned it reminding him of that sunburst I painted on the living room wall back in the Nest.
Of course, as my mind prepared for the fun of our evening plans, I couldn’t help also picturing it festooned with a great big ribbon to transform it into some kind of holiday wreath.
As the sun set and afternoon became evening, we rendezvoused and descended back into the subway system. Our trip this time was a bit shorter, as we only had to duck under the river and hang on as we hustled along the tracks to 34th Street. I think we may’ve actually gotten seats again this time, but I don’t remember, since I was getting pretty excited about the evening ahead. In any event, we were really there before much time had passed at all, climbing the stairs to the street level and this fantastic vista of the Empire State Building.
Of course, this first bit sounds like the plan of a madman (and Patrick deserves a few extra gold stars on his Friend Chart for not having put the kibosh on this whole business right from the get-go), but our first stop was to be Macy’s.
A college pal of mine is employed there this season as one of the famous department store’s legion of Santas and I had hoped that we’d be able to sail in during what sounded to be a relatively quieter time of day to have our photo taken with him.
As you might imagine, though, Macy’s this time of year…and particularly Santaland…is just one big cluster…uhm, schmozz. After being packed into elevators and whisked to the Eighth Floor, we were both feeling a bit overwhelmed…and it was almost a relief to find out that, while it would only be a half-hour’s wait to see a Santa, it was going to be at least an hour before the one we were hoping to see would be available. Deciding to avoid further “Claus-trophobia” (sorry…but seriously…), we found the escalators and made our way out, stopping to enjoy a few holiday windows and some of the lights outside.
Here’s the tree-shaped lights over the store entrance at Herald Square, which one sees on the televised coverage of the Macy’s Parade. Check out the blue lights in the foreground. These were long strands of lights, hanging vertically from the trees in the square, sort of like giant strands of tinsel, down which the lights flashed, creating the wonderful illusion of light dripping from the branches. It was way cooler than could be captured in a still shot, but I tried just the same.
From Herald Square, we moved on to Bryant Park, where I had forgotten they also have ice skating this time of year.
We didn’t do any of that, wisely, I think. Patrick’s never been and for me its been since high school. There weren’t nearly enough pillows handy to make that sound like fun for either of us. Plus, we had places to go and many more things to see.
We poked into a shopping kiosk or two, as these were set up throughout the park area, but our hearts weren’t in the shopping as this was more an evening about sight-seeing.
I have to give my guide credit here; throughout the evening, he was terrific, moving us towards the things we had discussed in advance as things I hoped to see and pointing out other things he was pretty sure (and rightly so) I’d want a photo of.
He was always also being very patient with the guy who – despite not having visited the city in over ten years – still wanted to feel like he remembered the place a bit and wasn’t totally a tourist…but didn’t have a particularly fresh handle on the street-to-street geography of the place. Thanks, pal. ; )
There’s the Chrysler Building, as seen as we ambled east toward Grand Central Station.
Like so many people, we arrived at Grand Central looking for trains, as we carried on a theme of the day. We knew we could find the big, life-sized ones down on the track level, but we were looking for a model train display, which we knew was somewhere in the terminal. Sadly, I hadn’t read the article for comprehension and while we wandered around a bit, we never did find them.
But as you can see, we did arrive in time for some of the lightshow they project on the walls and ceilings of the place this time of year, as immortalized some years ago here. It was pretty cool to watch, certainly…and the place is just so incredible that I suppose the more jaded commuters who pass through each day must always have to be on the look-out for tourists who stop short to gape up at the magnificent building, not just during the holiday light shows.
After a fairly thorough search of the station, but still not thorough enough to find the trains, we made our way outside again, where the city’s canyons opened up to offer another vista on the Empire State Building, now shrinking to the south as we moved north toward my goal for the evening.
A few short months ago, when we first talked about this trip, there was only one thing I had hoped to do on my birthday night. Everything else we added to the evening around that initial germ of an idea, that I would be in Rockefeller Center in the company of my pal Patrick, to turn 44 beneath the glowing branches of the most beautiful Christmas tree in all the world.
Of course, the official moment of my birth is pretty close to midnight and while it would surely have been a little less crowded at that hour, it had already been a pretty long day for each of us and I figured we might be better served to visit the tree earlier and have that actual moment find us comfortably back at the apartment, quietly turning into pumpkins together.
We made our way up Fifth Avenue and there it was, looking pretty small at first glance.
Of course, the excitement here is just incredible, a sort of roar of festiveness coming up from the milling, strolling crowd. Really, you’ve never seen so many digital cameras in use all at once. They should’ve been making camera…or even battery…commercials there. You can understand why, though. Everywhere you look is something beautiful, incredible, amazing.
There’s the massive snowflakes on the front of Saks Fifth Avenue, or the storefront windows people crowd in close to see, the angel trumpeters along the Channel Gardens, the buildings, the lights…and right at the heart of it, that amazing tree, which this year stands 72 feet tall, measures 46 feet across and weighs 8 tons.
The tree came from Hamilton Township, NJ, where it was spotted by RC tree scouts from helicopter, as is the tradition. What they couldn’t know from up there was how they were fulfilling a prediction.
In 1931, newly-married Hungarian immigrants Mary and Joseph (seriously…) Kremper selected a live, seven foot tall Norway spruce as their Christmas tree and after the holidays, planted it in a corner of their yard, two years before the tree tradition in Rockefeller Center began in ’33.
Brothers Bob and William Varanyak, who donated the tree, remembered this year (77 years later) how their mother always told them that their tree would someday make the trip to Rockefeller Center.
I’ve read that this tree is the first in years which has required no pruning or shaping to refine its beauty before decorating. They say, as the first cut of the trunk was made, that a bluebird landed in the upper branches of the tree and the brothers recognized it as their Mom, come to watch her prediction come true. Some things, it seems, are just meant to be.
I love that the Rockefeller Center tree has become such a green affair. It is illuminated with 30,000 energy efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes, for those still living in the 20th Century), on five miles of wire.
Here’s another fact I just love: the 2007 tree was recycled and the lumber made of its trunk was used by Habitat for Humanity to create the living room floor and walls of a new home for a Mississippi family who’d been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Kind of makes the whole thing just a little more beautiful, eh?
I rarely have the electrical resources available to me, but this is how a Christmas tree should be decorated. 30,ooo lights! Ha…it just boggles the mind.
I tried my hand at a few self-portrait shots and this one didn’t come out too badly. It’s pretty clear we were having a great time, anyway.
For a little context, though, a long shot was required and I’m happy to say the photo below came to us courtesy of the NYPD, who were managing crowd control and only to happy to take a photograph for us (well, once we had convinced Officer Funny that the camera wasn’t going to shoot grape jelly or water in his face when he tried to point and click).
Who says New York’s not a friendly place?
By this time, it was becoming obvious that stopping for dinner was an important idea. Much of the weekend to come was going to revolve around excellent food, though, so we’d been making an effort not to over-indulge, so as to bring healthy appetites to the occasions before us.
But a birthday dinner was required and I had an idea we might find a favorite old deli of mine…though I could recall exactly neither the name nor its specific location. I knew it was in the 50s, and a block east of Broadway…so we felt our way north along the Great White Way, enjoying the way the whole city had come together to decorate the town for this anniversary of my birth. Heh heh…
At 55th Street, I looked east and there it was, the Ben Ash Deli. Now, I have a feeling that a bunch of people may get to this point and throw up their hands in disgust. I was surprised to find a serious surplus of negative reviews of the place when I went looking (after the trip, before blogging) for it online. However, I’ve long been a fan of it as a relatively inexpensive place to get some latkes while doing things in mid-town. Maybe I have low standards. I discovered it first in June ’92 when I was in town for a pride march…and had returned during a few different theatre trips over the years since.
The reviews were a bit of a surprise to me (tho perhaps they explain why the place wasn’t crowded…although it was also just after 8 p.m., and curtains had just gone up in theatres all around the neighborhood) and we had a great dinner of latkes and massive turkey burgers, which we both enjoyed.
Of course, there was the couple glasses of red wine (for our health, of course…)…and just the joy of sitting down after flitting through all the Christmas Chaos. There was ABBA playing on the overhead radio (perhaps for those who’d just departed for the evening show of Mamma Mia) which we enjoyed, and of course, the company is not to be under-rated.
All in all, it was a great end to a lovely evening of dashing about. As we made our way north after dinner toward the subway station that would get us home to Harlem, we were captivated by these fantastic stars hanging over the entrance of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. The stars were programmed to change colors, but did so in a truly amazing variety of ways. Sometimes the color changed solidly from star to star, or they all changed together…other times the colors flitted across the stars in little bits here and there. We watched the routines for some time, as I changed my batteries and tried to get just the right shots.
This crystal pretzel chandelier in a lobby behind us was also pretty impressive, though I believe it is not strictly a holiday decoration, but something year-round.
And so there you have it, I’ve finally made it through the first day of my weekend visit to Manhattan. To sum up: Best Birthday Ever!
There’s still lots to share from the weekend…so check back again later for the next installment, since there’s wedding festivities and skyscrapers and brunch and sunsets still to share! And if you missed the earlier post, well, scroll on down and check that out, too!