Exploring the NYC Public Library

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View from our room at The Andaz-perfect hotel and perfect location!

SHHHHHH….the librarian tour guide at the NYC Public Library glared at Thom and I as we quietly discussed a salient point to what she was elaborating on.  DO. NOT. TALK.  The message was clear and, properly chastised, we tried to remain silent for the rest of the one hour tour.  Damn, it’s hard to be silent.  Ranging in age from super old to ridiculously youthful, our tour group cohorts smirked at us including giving us the “oh no you didn’t” shameful sign.  Being quiet did allow us to learn ALOT about the NYC library along the way on our recent stay in NYC.   Silence is golden.  Well, to most people.

Opened in 1911,  the unofficial “People’s Palace” was built on the site of a former reservoir that featured a promenade around it for the ladies with hats and gents could stroll back in the day.  NYC Public Library is a library of record that has many collection rooms scattered throughout featuring the good, bad and truthful record of people over time.  We saw rooms for ancestory, the top 10 map collections in the world, historical records including an archive of menus from NYC to record our appetite timeline for posterity.

As you first enter, the grand Astor Hall was made out of marble, 65% of which was rejected because only the best would do for this magnificent structure.  The intricate carved ceilings in the outer hallways was created in plaster to look like wood and it does.  Why aren’t modern buildings built with more interesting ceiling features?  Look up at the NYC PL because there are stunning murals in many of the main halls.  Other fun things to check out:

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Lions are everywhere from the huge statutes out front to the small heads by what were the water fountains before they discovered the pipes were lead and not safe-now just for show.  They used to put wreaths at the holidays around the lion heads until some idiot set them on fire so no more holiday decorations for these lions.  Damn fools.

Pooh lives here.  Who knew?  You can see the real stuffed animals that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

In Room 328 Rare Books, you can see letters from Columbus, who thought he was by the New China Sea when he was checking out the US.  I guess people were disappointed that he didn’t discover human monstrosities on his tour.  Of course, Trump hadn’t been born yet.

Also in Room 328 is Thomas Jefferson’s original declaration of independence before the Continental Congress took it over and revised it.  Also kept here is the world’s most valuable baseball card.  What ball player you may ask??  Honus Wagner.  Never heard of him.  That’s probably blasphemous but just true.  Our trusty tour guide told us that baseball cards used to come with cigarettes purchases.  Yep, encourage the kids to light up and collect cards.

Of course, we had to check out the famous Gutenberg bible on display-one of 2 copies that are rotated to keep them in top shape, changing the pages open regularly.  The black ink is typeset but the red letters were hand written.  While the Rose Main reading room (iconic site used in Ghostbusters movie) was closed for renovation after parts of the aging ceiling fell down, there were so many other areas to check out that I didn’t miss it.  On previous visits, that is usually all we saw.  Well, besides the convenient public bathroom on the 2nd floor that we knew was there and used when in the neighborhood touring and needed a facility.

There is a quite extensive collection exhibited on Alexander Hamilton who is now a rock star thanks to the Broadway hit.  Seeing the letters he wrote to his wife and all the official work he did for this country was very interesting, being the scholar and scoundrel that he was most definitely in real life.

As the tour wound down, our tour guide shared that the NYC PL was really all about inspiring life long learning and a passion for the community–one of the last bastion of civilizations–and sternly told us that libraries will never be obsolete. I hope not.  My fondest childhood memories are of the Noblesville Public Library, a downtown brick multi-level joy that is no longer used as a library, but where I could escape and become immersed in a different world with my beloved books.  A Wrinkle in Time was my all-time favorite book.  I’ve shared my love of reading with my family who all think that the best present you can give is a book and the best place you can spend your day is immersed in a great library.

Andaz is Special, Park Hyatt Not So Much

Through the generous offer of two free nights at any Hyatt property (all categories) with the opening of a Hyatt credit card, we were set for our NYC trip.  Booking one night at the Andaz Fifth Avenue and one night at the very pricey Park Hyatt (up to $1200/night), we had two very different experiences.   Andaz treated us like royalty even using points.  Park Hyatt, you disappointed and treated us like ugly stepchildren.  Andaz, you win hands down!  You have now got my loyalty for life–even as a paying customer.

Having stayed for two months at the Andaz in Shanghai for our transition housing when we moved to China, I did have high expectations.  The Shanghai Andaz had the most amazing service and amenities, including complimentary snacks, beverages, nightly wine and morning buffet.  In addition the rooms were lavish and service over-the-top.  Checking into the Andaz Fifth Avenue felt like coming home–no counter between myself and the Andaz host.  Without even asking:  Bottled water?  Yes please.  Early check-in and late check-out?  Yes please.  Even though we weren’t “paying” customers, we had a view of the NYC Public Library with a spacious especially by NYC standards, luxurious room featuring 20 foot ceilings, a marble bathroom with a shower bigger than most bathrooms and separate foot bowl/foot shower, great after a long day of walking around Manhattan.  At our last hotel, while they provided nice postcards, they did not have stamps available.  Of course the Andaz not only had stamps for our postcards but no charge and happy to mail them for us.  Classy and convenient.  We got in a little after the free wine happy hour last night so the bottles were put away but when I asked, they quickly poured me a complimentary glass to go to the room.  Ahhh….love the Andaz so much I would gladly pay the $300-400 a night to stay there if I was out of free Hyatt points, which I am now.

Now, on today to the Park Hyatt where there seemed to be a lack of service altogether and at up to $1200 a night, you would expect more.  Finding our way up to the check-in, there was no offer of water and no early check-in.  Yes, I’m spoiled.  The lobby was teeny tiny and I was already missing my Andaz.  But wait…the Park Hyatt decided to favor us with the worst room at the inn with a brick wall/construction/air vent view in a room so small you can hardly walk around the bed, which is typical for a NYC hotel but I thought the Park Hyatt would be different.  Guess I was wrong.

Now, the high tech tv in the bathroom mirror with remote control was cool and the tub is nice but don’t eat those snacks, Thom, because they surely aren’t free.  No complimentary wine for you, Ms. George!  So, we quickly escaped to the top floor pool that we had heard was very nice and it was.  Thom is taking his nap now while I write this and then we’ll enjoy the lap pool, cucumber water and hot tub.

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Park Hyatt Pool is nice

Tonight it’s off to dinner with Ronnie and Andrea, old friends, and then Dublin tomorrow night.  Vacation is THE BEST and yes, I appreciate it even looking at a brick wall.  Life is good.

Two Gutenbergs in One Day

The theme for Friday’s Manhattan adventure was a deep dive into literature so it was only fitting that we got to see two Gutenberg Bibles in one day-first at the NYC Public Library and then in the evening at the Morgan Library.  Just blocks apart, these masterpieces are two of only 49 left of their kind, the first major book printed around 1450 using mass-produced movable type.  A beautiful and historic book to behold and the Morgan Library has 3 copies that they rotate to preserve.  wp_20160916_20_03_13_richThey’ve done a good job because it is in great repair for being so old and enduring many adventures among owners in the past before being acquired in 1815 for the Morgan Library.moran-2

Taking advantage of the free Friday deal to visit the Morgan, we sought out Rembrandt’s first masterpiece, Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, which is considered to be his first mature work.  Perhaps we are a little jaded from seeing so many Rembrandts on our Amsterdam tour but still it was impressive, along with other pieces of his work on display.  moran-1

More interesting to me though was the Charlotte Bronte exhibit that showcased all her talents from drawing to writing.  She and her sisters started early in life by creating tiny books telling stories to each other.  Charlotte was a strong liberated woman for her day (with a teeny tiny 18 inch waist-dress pic) and wanted only to write and not be a teacher or governess as the culture would dictate her to be in the early 1800’s.  She declared herself “a free human being with an independent will”.  Unfortunately, it’s still hard to make a living being a writer even in this day and age.  I respect her fortitude to follow her passion and share her talents with the world.

After soaking up the opulent Morgan Library with it’s iron staircases leading to even more books on the upper floors interspersed with tapestries and paintings and, of course, an elegant ceiling, we enjoyed a jazz trio treating the crowd to a spirited jam session.  Resting before the walk home, Thom and I smiled and agreed it was another perfect day in NYC.

 

A Tale of Two Rats-A NYC Fairy Tale

There once lived two rats in very different parts of the big city that never sleeps.  Lucky me, I got to see them both up close and personal while out having Manhattan adventures.  One rat, we’ll call him Junior due to his petite size, lived by the lake in Central Park with a view to die for.  The other deserves a loftier title, perhaps Pony, as he was large enough to saddle up, and lives in Madison Square Park near the iconic Flatiron Building.

Now in the early fall in the Big Apple, they had very different experiences.  Junior was doing who knows what but got stuck in the sidewalk swell and was rescued by a tourist with no sense of self preservation or hygiene.  Slowing down to see why there was a crowd gathered, Thom and I stopped in our tracks when we saw this gent pick up Junior by the tip of his tail, freeing him from whatever he was trapped by and gently swinging him over to the bushes to set him free.  Run, Junior, run.  Run, Melinda, run.

Now Pony didn’t experience the same type of kindness by strangers.  Walking from Happy Hour at the Flat Iron Room to Fishs Eddy to shop, we were drawn into Madison Park, our old neighborhood haunt where Thom would take Izaak every day to play in the dog park when we lived at 27th and 7th in Chelsea.  Observing all the dogs playing was great but then, streaking from the dog area to the bushes in the middle of the park  right in front of us was a small dog or was that…wait a minute, that’s no dog.  Running like a bat (or rat in this case) out of Hell, Pony, aka the largest rat I have ever seen, took off like a shot from the fenced dog area probably after one of the dogs decided he had found a new playmate or tasty snack.  Run, Pony, run.  Run, Melinda, run.

Ultimately, both rats lived to see another day in the city that I love.  Who knows, maybe next time I visit we’ll meet again.  Or not.

 

Living the Literary Life at The Algonquin

Stepping back into the 1920’s era of rich wood paneling where The Round Table met to discuss news of the day was a treat as we checked into The Algonquin hotel in NYC and were promptly greeted by the legendary house cat, Matilda.  Fat and sassy, the current Matilda is one of many felines who have graced the lobby starting with the original anointed “Hamlet” (boy cats are named Hamlet and girl cats are Matilda) by legendary thespian John Barrymore back in the day.  They even have a “chief cat officer” on staff to assist Matilda with her busy schedule and social media accounts.  Yes, this lucky cat has a Facebook page:  Matilda-The Algonquin Cat.

 

Aside from Matilda, this hotel reeks of history and luxury.  Enjoying Day 1 of our NYC/Ireland vacation, we couldn’t wait to check in and hit the streets to see our favorite Manhattan haunts.  While the rooms are small, they make up for it with top of the line furnishings from the backlit photographic headboard to the marble bathroom, this hotel experience is worth it.  Grab a complimentary espresso and sit in the lobby where classic tunes play and snuggle into the leather chairs for a quiet reading experience that is a very worthwhile use of time.

Stepping outside on 44th Street right into the middle of the hectic Manhattan experience, it’s an easy walk to all the landmark attractions like Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Times Square and even, for those of you like me who have to get 10,000 steps a day, it’s a nice long walk to Central Park.  We hit over 20,000 steps yesterday as we took it all in and walked through lush Central Park in the throes of an Indian Summer day with blue skies and temps in the 70’s.

After a long day of walking, we were still tired from the redeye flight from Hell where we fidgeted and twitched for 5 long hours but certainly didn’t sleep.  The front desk of the Algonquin couldn’t have been nicer, checking us in early at 9 a.m. when we finally arrived after a long, traffic-congested Uber ride from JFK.  Of course, Thom became best buddies with our driver, talking New York sports the whole way while I napped.  So fun meeting and talking to new people.  Our Uber guy in Seattle to the airport was from Vietnam and was so excited we had visited his country so we chatted all things Hanoi and Saigon.  Enjoying the journey!

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at SAM

On a beautiful sunny Seattle day, we were lucky enough to use our SAM membership to check out the new exhibit:  Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic.  WOW.  DAMN.  If you are lucky enough to live in Seattle, go check it out.  I am totally impressed with this artist’s vast talent.  Not only can he paint scenes that you can’t help but stare at in awe and examine up close to ponder how he can paint so realistically but his sculpture and stained glass pieces of art are equally fantastic.WP_20160220_11_02_54_Pro

Unfortunately, we missed Kehinde in person at the opening event but we did watch the documentary on his “An Economy of Grace” paintings last night after seeing his work.  The story as told on this PBS video really brings to life the paintings on display and I would suggest you take the time to view it either before or after you visit the SAM.  Kehinde works in both New York and Beijing.  In the documentary, we loved seeing how his artists help with the background work in his Beijing warehouse, the trip that the art took to get from China to the first showing in NYC and how he recruits his street models.  You don’t realize how much work goes into prepping the space to showcase the art–the right wall color, the right frame, etc.  WOW.

So why is his art so different?  Kehinde picks people off the street to be his models, focusing on street culture, black masculinity and hip hop as portraits of these individuals set in historically famous poses of European works.  The contrast between the Nike-wearing regular people in their lavish portrait settings is striking and stays with you long after you leave the gallery.  WP_20160220_11_08_52_Pro

A self-identified gay man, Kehinde grew up in LA and began painting at an early age.  As the SAM gallery guide explains, “He challenges long-held assumptions by opening new doors of perception, offering unprecedented interpretations and reimaging the black figure as subject, object and agent.”  As I watched part of his documentary in the gallery, the large audience included a diverse crowd, including children learning about this interesting exhibition.  Well done, Kehinde and SAM for a breathtaking experience.  We plan on going back again to savor the creativity before this unique show moves on to the next lucky museum.   WP_20160220_11_08_30_Pro

World Series Time-Thom’s Dream Comes True!

I made the decision that Thom MUST go to the World Series if the Mets, by some miracle, beat the Goat-cursed Cubs. It wasn’t a hard decision.  A lifelong survivor of so many losing seasons, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Okay, twice in a lifetime, since he went to the World Series the last time the Mets made it–way back in 1986 when tickets were $30.  DAMN, he’s old!  My daughter Hannah, who is also married to a huge Mets fan, had the very same idea  and called me to collaborate on what could be the best father-in-law/son-in-law road trip of all times.  THEY’RE GOING TO NYC TO THE WORLD SERIES!

Mets going to the World Series!
Mets going to the World Series!

Miracle of all miracles, the 7 Line company that sells Mets gear sponsored a lottery for true fans (and customers) but only had 589 tickets for each of the three games at CitField.  After they sent out 25,000 fan codes to access the site, it was all up to luck and good bandwith to “win” the opportunity to buy max of 2 of these $250 tickets.  SCORE!  My son-in-law got through and so on Saturday, October 31st, Thom and Mike will spend Halloween cheering on their Mets to victory in NYC.

The agony of waiting for the end to come!
The agony of waiting for the end to come!

Personally, I can’t wait for it all to be over.  The stress is so overwhelming at times that Thom’s face is bright red and he can hardly function.  I have my fingers poised to dial 911 at all times during games just in case of a stress-induced medical emergency.   We had to wrap an ice wrap around his neck to cool him down at one point during an especially close game.  Pathetic–over a silly ball game!  He is constantly texting his NYC friends during games, sharing the excitement and pain as the players cause anxiety galore among all.

Game-induced stress = ice wrap around the neck
Game-induced stress = ice wrap around the neck

On Thursday night, when the Mets were set to sweep the Cubs in game 4 of the NLCS, when Thom would normally be glued to the television, we were instead sitting at Century Link Field cheering on the FIFA WC USA women’s team playing Brazil, tickets purchased when the thought of the Mets playing in post-season was just a dream.  Earbuds in, I warned Thom not to shout out random profanity as he listened to the game moving closer to it’s conclusion.  AT LAST, the smile lite up his face like a small child experiencing their first Christmas morning.  Flights now booked, they will arrive in time to watch the game with loyal fans on Friday night at legendary Mets sports bar, McFadden’s with hundreds of other fanatics and go to the game on Saturday.  Send good karma to the Mets and pray that Thom makes it through the series with his blood pressure intact.  GO METS!