Sunday, July 15, 2007

Voices Full of Money (or not)

Sunday July 8, 2007: Day 4 in NYC

'She’s got an indiscreet voice,' I remarked. 'It’s full of—' I hesitated.
'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood it before. It was full of money - that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it... The Great Gatsby

I can think of few better ways to see the various strata of New York society than to walk down Broadway Ave. which I had an opportunity to do on Sunday by myself. I was determined to go to my favourite bookstore, the Strand at 12th St. and Broadway and parted company with family as they made their way to the American Museum of Natural History (another City Pass attraction). Woolly mammoths and dinosaur bones are not for me. This is the museum that the film Night at the Museum (2006) was modelled on. Book worm that I am, I was looking forward to stocking up for the next few months with a few choice volumes.

We all started with breakfast at the Pershing Square cafe at 90 E. 42nd St. near Park Ave. across from the hotel. It is built under the Park Avenue Viaduct but is much much pleasanter than that sounds! Try getting a seat in the back of the restaurant to appreciate the 19th c. charm of the place. Again, not inexpensive but worth the trip at least once. Check out the AOL city guide review for more deets.

I started in the theatre district at 42nd and started walking south on Broadway. This brought home a lot of happy memories from previous trips when R and I would walk the length of Broadway to Greenwich Village sometimes walking for 30 or 40 blocks. I would walk a few blocks and then stop at a square to read Gatsby (Broadway is blessed with many such little intimate squares). My first stop was Herald Square which is formed by the intersection of Broadway, 6th Ave. and 34th. The area was named for the New York Herald (now morphed into International Herald Tribune). The most notable attraction in the area is Macy's which I didn't go into as I have an allergic reaction to department stores.

I also stopped at Greeley Square just two blocks south. It is a pretty little oasis on the Avenue. I wandered into the Madison Square Park at 24th and looked up to see the Flat Iron Building at 175 Fifth Ave. and 23rd, one of my favourite NYC landmarks. I discovered, after the fact, that I was very close to one of the homes of my idol Edith Wharton nearby on West 23rd Street. I'll always remember that great establishing shot in the film Reds (1981) of Diane Keaton (Louise Bryant) stepping off a bus in NYC to see Warren Beatty (John Reed) for the first time with the Flat Iron Building in the background.

The composition of the Avenue constantly shifts from multicultural pear shaped tourists (like moi) in the theatre district to dozens of black, South Asian and East Asian immigrant families running slightly seedy little shops that sell kitschy costume jewellery and handbags. But then everything seems to change just south of the Flat Iron Building and it's trendy white NYers and tourists with dinero ready to invade beautiful stores like ABC Carpet and Home described as "Disney Land for interior decorators". I must say I was dazzled a bit by it ... one blog described it as "Lovely, but, alas, beyond my means today." and "Have lunch at Gramercy Tavern, rob a bank, then come here." and that's how I felt, leaving frustrated and a bit guilty over wanting some of the beautiful stuff in the store.

The city has changed a great deal since the 1980s. As I sit in Union Square at 17th and Broadway and listen to the rantings of a homeless man (loud but harmless) I acknowledge that I do feel safer here now, that the city is cleaner. This was the first time that I have gone out completely alone and navigated the subways and streets. But I keep wondering where are the homeless and panhandlers now? Did former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's pre-911 draconian measures work so effectively that they have disappeared from the streets of NYC forever? Read how Rudy dealt with the homeless here. So it does make you wonder what happened since that time

Union Square , at 17th St. and Broadway, has historically been the site for many political demonstrations and has been described as "a frequent gathering point for radicals of all stripes, whom one will often find speaking or demonstrating". It is also the site of the Union Square Greenmarket held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays between 8am - and 6pm.

Finally! I reach the Strand bookstore at 828 Broadway(at 12th St.), hot, a little tired but extremely pleased to see that it is still there. I found a number of things I had hoped to find and few other great surprises: Hello Americans!, actor Simon Callow's second volume bio on Orson Welles; a collection called Carlyle's House and Other Sketches by Virginia Woolf (said to be her first published book); The Mrs. Dalloway Reader by Esther Lombardi; When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age by Justin Kaplan; a Frida Kahlo 2008 daytimer for my sister and a new Strand book bag for myself.

As sated as only a very full bookworm could be, I took the subway home to relieve myself of the accumulated booty. R et famille were still at the American Museum of Natural History so I decided to scoot up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to find the original painting of John Singer Sargent's Madame X which I had been reading about for years. More tomorrow ...

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